KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 24 — Fugitive financier Low Taek Jho was in direct conflict of interest with 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) as he was also advising PetroSaudi International (PSI) in 2009, the trial’s defence lawyer suggested at the High Court today.
During cross-examination of Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi, Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah asked the 1MDB former chief executive whether he knew Low was also advising PSI in 2009, during which time both companies had entered into a joint-venture agreement.
Shafee: Was he advising PetroSaudi?
Shafee: Jho Low was advising Petrosaudi International, when did you know about this?
Shahrol: Early September 2009.
Shafee: So, you say Jho Low also advised 1MDB.
Shahrol: He was mainly advising Datuk Seri Najib and 1MDB.
Shafee: So early 2009, you knew this and it didn’t occur to you that Jho Low was in conflict of interest. Who was he favouring, PSI or 1MDB?
Shahrol: He was advising Datuk Seri Najib earlier then he was with PSI, and so when he informed me that he was playing a role as an adviser to PSI, he also made clear to me that he wanted to create a win-win between the two countries, on behalf of the prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib.
Shafee: My question is, he was advising your potential partner and he attended (1MDB) board meetings, he knew secret discussions on what you were concerned about and he would advise PSI?
Shahrol: At the time, I took it that Jho was a trusted adviser of Datuk Ser Najib and the prime minister knew what he was doing when he asked Jho Low to facilitate the deal.
Earlier this month, Shafee had asked Shahrol why the deal was signed just a month after it was presented to the 1MDB board of directors in August 2009.
Leading up to the hasty deal was the 1MDB board of directors’ meeting on September 26, 2009 to decide whether to go ahead with forming a joint venture company, just two days before the deal was signed between 1MDB and PetroSaudi Holdings (Cayman) Ltd on September 28, 2009.
1MDB had then paid US$1 billion to secure its stake in the joint venture company, with this amount split into US$700 million and US$300 million.
The US$700 million went to one Good Star Ltd, a firm that investigators say whose main beneficiary is Low. The prosecution has also said that US$20 million of the US$700 million allegedly reached Najib eventually.
Shahrol also said he had informed the 1MDB board of directors about Low’s role in PSI; however could not recall whether he had put the issue in writing or the minutes of meetings.
Shafee then asked why he did not make a record of Low’s role in PSI.
Shahrol retorted that it was normal practice for the sovereign wealth firm not to detail Low’s involvement in 1MDB as a means to protect Najib.
“It was done in good faith and it was how Datuk Seri Najib wanted things to be done, I also remembered when we were federalising TIA (Terengganu Investment Authority) into 1MDB, that there was a meeting in which Najib chaired that he says that he wanted to things in 1MDB differently, to do things quickly and to leave the old ways behind and I took that to heart,” he said.
Shahrol also recalled a specific meeting attended by Ministry of Finance officials where Najib said, “I’m not going to destroy the country”.