KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 23 — Former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s trial over a charge of tampering with the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) final audit report together with 1MDB former chief executive officer (CEO) Arul Kanda Kandasamy commenced at the High Court here with a witness making an explosive confession that she secretly taped recorded a meeting linked to the alleged altering of the report.
Nobody could have known what actually transpired in the meeting on February 24, 2016, if National Audit Department (NAD) audit director Nor Salwani Muhammad, 52, had not secretly slipped in a voice recorder into a pencil case belonging to NAD officer, Saadatul Nafisah Bashir Ahmad, who attended the meeting just before the meeting commenced.
In the opening statement on the first day of the trial, lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, among others said the prosecution would show that Najib did what he did to avoid civil or criminal liability against him as a shadow director of 1MDB, as well as, use his position to obtain gratification within Section 3 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act.
Najib, 66, was charged with using his position to order amendments to the 1MDB final audit report to avoid any action against him before it was tabled to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), while Arul Kanda was charged with abetting Najib in committing the offence.
They allegedly committed the offence at the Prime Minister’s Department Complex, Federal Government’s Administrative Centre, the Federal Territory of Putrajaya, between February 22 and 26, 2016.
The following is a recap of the witness testimonies before High Court Judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan.
DAY 1 (November 18):
- Sri Ram, in his opening statement, among others told the High Court that the prosecution will prove that Najib used his position as the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance to direct removal of material information in the 1MDB final audit report.
- He said 1MDB was a company in which Najib had a material interest and the former prime minister held shares in it, albeit as a ‘Minister of the Crown’.
- “He was also its preference shareholder and he exercised supreme power over it. The accused (Najib) involved himself in the affairs of 1MDB,” he said.
- Sri Ram said monies belonging to 1MDB flowed into the account of a company called Good Star Limited which was controlled by Najib’s mirror image or alter ego, a man called Low Taek Jho or Jho Low, of whom the accused was particularly protective.
- “Some of those monies also went to Najib’s stepson, Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz. Najib also received large amounts of money belonging to 1MDB. Although he knew that the monies in question belonged to 1MDB, he lied to the world at large that they were a donation from Saudi Arabia,” he said.
- Sri Ram said despite the fact that the report prepared by the Auditor-General was ready to be placed before the Parliament’s PAC, Najib took steps to have those passages that concerned him to be altered or removed in a meeting on 24 February 24, 2016, on his order.
- He said Arul Kanda by his conduct, preceding the meeting in question, at that meeting and following it, abetted the accused in this transaction.
- “I am duty-bound to inform the court that at the appropriate stage, the public prosecutor will apply in writing under Section 63 of the MACC Act to call the accused Arul Kanda to give evidence on the prosecution’s behalf. We will be addressing the court on this part of the case at the appropriate stage,” he said.
DAY 2 (November 19)
- Former Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa told the High Court that Najib was not satisfied with the contents of the 1MDB audit report which was to be presented before the PAC on February 24, 2016.
- Ali, 64, who held his post until August 2018, said this was related by the former prime minister when he (Ali) was called to Najib’s office on February 22, 2016. He said also present during the meeting was former Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang.
- “(During the meeting) Datuk Seri Najib mentioned that he did not want two different financial statements for 1MDB to be submitted in the 1MDB audit report. At that time, I did not know what the problem was with 1MDB’s annual financial statements,” said Ali, who was the fourth prosecution witness.
- Ali also testified that Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was sacked from the deputy prime minister post after he raised too many questions on the sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB, in 2015.
- He also said that former Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail was removed from his position in July 2015 as Najib lost trust in the chief legal adviser.
- The witness also told the High Court that Ambrin brought up the issue in a 1MDB Audit Report coordination meeting, which was held on the instruction of Najib on February 24, 2016, but no minutes of the meeting was recorded.
- He said Arul Kanda was present at the meeting and had disapproved of the matters highlighted in the 1MDB audit report by the NAD as they “were not factual and were merely hearsay”, and insisted that such matters be omitted from the report.
- The witness said Arul Kanda also insisted that the conflicting versions should not be included in the 1MDB Audit Report and asked for a police investigation to be conducted.
- “The meeting also raised the issue of Low Taek Jho or Jho Low’s presence at the 1MDB Board of Directors meeting related to the Islamic Medium Term Notes (IMTN) investment.
- “It was raised in the 1MDB Audit Report because the National Audit Department’s due diligence found that Jho Low did not hold any position nor play any role in 1MDB. Thus, his presence was viewed as a red flag,” he added.
DAY 3 (November 20):
- An audio recording of a meeting linked to the alleged tampering of the 1MDB final audit report that was chaired by Ali was played in the High Court.
- Those who attended the February 24, 2016 meeting were Arul Kanda, representatives from NAD, Ambrin and Saadatul Nafisah, Tan Sri Shukry Mohd Salleh from the Prime Minister’s Office and Datuk Seri Mohamad Isa Hussain from the Treasury.
- The transcript of the recording was given to High Court Judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan and lawyers in the trial.
DAY 4 (Nov 21):
- Nor Salwani, admitted in court to making a voice recording of a meeting linked to the report by slipping in a voice recorder into the pencil case of her superior, Saadatul Nafisah, without her knowledge just before the meeting commenced.
- The fifth prosecution witness said she did that so that she will be able to prepare the minutes of the audit report coordination meeting, as she was not allowed to sit in that meeting.
- “I was appointed coordinator of the meeting. Due to this, I needed to know what was being discussed in the meeting.
- “Saadatul Nafisah had no knowledge I had slipped a voice recorder in her pencil case. After the meeting ended, I took the voice recorder out from the pencil case and took it back to the office,” she said.
- Cross examined by Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, representing Najib, Nor Salwani said she had no time to inform Saadatul Nafisah that she had placed a recorder in her pencil case, adding that she also had no intention of doing it discreetly.
- “After I was asked hurriedly to leave the room just before the meeting commenced, I noticed a pencil case on the table and I slipped in the voice recorder,” she said.
- Nor Salwani also told the court that she and the 1MDB special audit team were shocked when they heard the part where there was a request to omit the 1MDB financial statements.
- Ambrin, 70, told the court that the audit report on 1MDB and its group of companies could have been completed in five months, but eventually took almost a year due to difficulty in accessing information.
- The sixth prosecution witness also said he instructed the final report to be classified under the Official Secrets Act 1972 to avoid it being sensationalised before it was tabled to the PAC.
- Ambrin who held the post of Auditor-General for 12 years since 2006 said the audit process undertaken by 12 NAD officers from March 2015 took almost a year as we had difficulty accessing the required information.
- “It took very long as we faced limitations in either obtaining the original and important documents, delays in them being handed over or not being handed over at all.
- “Among the documents that never reached us were the group accounts for the financial year ending March 31, 2015 and financial statements from foreign financial institutions,” he said.
The trial before Justice Mohamed Zaini continues next Wednesday. — Bernama