KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 11 — Fugitive financier Low Taek Jho had proposed corporate figure Tan Sri Ong Gim Huat to be a board member of the government-owned 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) due to his credentials and also to fit then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1Malaysia aspirations, the High Court heard today.
Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi, who was 1MDB’s former CEO, confirmed this during Najib’s corruption trial in relation to more than RM2 billion of 1MDB’s funds.
“What happened was when we were in the process of expanding the board from the original — Datuk Ismee, Datuk Bakke, Tan Sri Azlan, myself, there were some discussion about bringing in some non-Bumiputera directors as well to reflect Najib’s 1Malaysia aspiration.
“The names were all suggested to me by Jho who said he had already cleared with Datuk Seri Najib,” Shahrol said when testifying as the ninth prosecution witness against Najib.
When explaining why Ong was chosen to join the 1MDB board, Shahrol said: “The rationale was that he is an independent businessman knowledgeable about real estate development. I think the keyword was that he is ‘clean’ and outsider to the system.”
“So the representation that was put to me was that Datuk Seri Najib wanted —— not to say a fresh start —— but a fresh way of looking at things, and therefore he didn’t want the same old faces to appear on the board,” he said.
Quizzed by Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Shahrol confirmed that Low had said that Ong was a candidate approved by Najib.
Shahrol however acknowledged he could not confirm if Najib had indeed approved Ong as a candidate for the 1MDB board.
Ong had previously been reported to be a family friend of Low.
Last month, Shahrol had also said businessman Ashvin Jethanand of the luxury goods retailer Valiram Group was also recommended by Low, with Low allegedly saying that this was due to Najib purportedly wanting a more 1Malaysia composition.
Other Low recommendations
Under cross-examination by Shafee, Shahrol today also confirmed that a number of 1MDB officials were recommended by Low.
Shahrol confirmed that 1MDB executive director Casey Tang who had handled important investment matters was suggested by Low.
Shahrol also confirmed that Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil was executive director of investment in Low’s company UBG Berhad before his recruitment to be 1MDB’s investment officer.
Shahrol said Tang had turned down the offer of becoming 1MDB chief financial officer and that Low had given Nik Faisal’s name when asked for recommendations.
Shahrol confirmed that he himself was recommended by Low to be 1MDB CEO, but said that 1MDB’s in-house lawyer Jasmine Loo did not come directly from Low.
Shahrol said that Loo was working with Low’s company, but said he was the one who had asked for Loo.
“That one slightly different. I was the one who asked Jho whether I can have Jasmine as internal counsel. Initially Jho was reluctant, he said if Jasmine agrees to it,” he said, added that he had pitched the job to Loo over lunch.
Najib’s 1MDB trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Seqeurah resumes on Wednesday.