Ambrin: Did Jho Low attend 1MDB board meeting? Minutes showed contradictory account

Former Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex November 27, 2019. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
Former Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex November 27, 2019. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 27 — 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) had produced two different versions of its minutes for a 2009 board meeting, with the initial version confirming businessman Low Taek Jho’s presence while the second version omitted his name as an attendee, the High Court heard today.

Tan Sri Ambrin Buang, who was the auditor-general tasked with auditing 1MDB in 2015, today spoke about government auditors’ findings on whether Low had actually attended the September 26, 2009 meeting.

Ambrin said the government auditors from the National Audit Department (NAD) had initially discovered at 1MDB’s office during checks of 1MDB meeting minutes that there was a September 26, 2009 meeting minutes that listed “Low Taek Jho” as an attendee.

“But the NAD was not allowed by 1MDB to make a copy of that document at that time,” he said while testifying as the sixth prosecution witness in former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy’s joint trial.

Ambrin said he had then invited all members of 1MDB board directors including Tan Sri Mohd Bakke Salleh to the NAD office for interviews, in order to verify if Low had attended the 1MDB board meeting.

“Bakke at that time confirmed that Low Taek Jho was indeed present in the board of directors’ meeting on September 26, 2009 when the investment to issue Islamic Medium-Term Notes (IMTN) was made.

“Bakke also brought with him a copy of the meeting minutes that stated Low Taek Jho’s name, but NAD decided it cannot be used for audit purposes as the document was obtained from a third party,” Ambrin explained.

Ambrin said he had “no reason not to believe” Bakke as he was the one who had chaired the September 2009 meeting.

Following NAD’s initial discovery and Bakke’s confirmation, Ambrin said he had then met with 1MDB board of directors’ chairman Tan Sri Lodin Wok Kamaruddin and 1MDB’s then CEO Arul Kanda to inform them that NAD needed 1MDB meeting minutes and other documents from the company in order to carry out the audit.

“After NAD repeatedly asked for that meeting minutes, then only did 1MDB give a certified copy of the meeting minutes. But, that meeting minutes did not contain the name ‘Low Taek Jho’ in the list of meeting attendees,” he said.

After discovering the two different versions of the September 2009 meeting minutes, Ambrin said NAD had checked with 1MDB’s company secretary who then confirmed that the meeting minutes without Low’s name was the correct copy.

Ambrin said Low’s attendance in the meeting may have influenced 1MDB’s board of directors in their decision to approve the RM5 billion fund-raising exercise through bonds via the IMTN, noting that NAD considered it to be wrong for Low to be present despite him not holding any position or role in 1MDB.

Ambrin said the NAD had then mentioned Low’s attendance in the September 2009 meeting in the Auditor-General’s 2016 report of its audit on 1MDB, but was asked in a February 24, 2016 meeting — that was held upon Najib’s request — to remove this information from the report.

Datuk Seri Najib Razak is seen at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex, November 27, 2019. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
Datuk Seri Najib Razak is seen at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex, November 27, 2019. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

Ambrin said then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s then principal private secretary Tan Sri Shukry Mohd Salleh had said that the 1MDB audit report could be politicised by the opposition.

“Tan Sri Shukry had requested for the removal of the paragraph about Jho Low’s presence in this meeting due to sensitivity levels and to prevent that fact from being manipulated by the opposition,” he said.

Ambrin also suggested that he believed the removal of Low’s presence was aimed at avoiding PAC or the readers of the 1MDB audit report from knowing of Low’s involvement in the meeting.

But following the request for the removal of Low’s presence in the meeting from the 1MDB audit report, Ambrin said he had agreed to remove it.

“However, I agreed for this issue to be dropped from the audit report as the NAD audit team cannot verify via documentary evidence whether Low Taek Jho was truly present as there were two meeting minutes that were different in terms of the attendance list,” he said.

Even though this information was removed from the 1MDB audit report, Ambrin said the NAD did still inform the PAC about the removal as Bakke had already on February 11, 2016 told the PAC about Low’s presence in the meeting.

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