Former A-G defends Nor Salwani for slipping voice recorder into 1MDB meeting

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

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 27 — The National Audit Department's (NAD) Nor Salwani Muhammad did not break any rules by recording a high-level meeting in 2016 that resulted in changes to the federal audit report on 1MDB, her former superior told the High Court today.

Tan Sri Ambrin Buang, who was the auditor-general at the time, said so when speaking about the February 24, 2016 meeting when government and 1MDB officials at the time sought changes to the report he prepared on the state investment firm.

Responding to lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, Ambrin said Nor Salwani was the coordinator of the NAD's special audit team on 1MDB but was forced out of the meeting venue then.

“Well she was supposed to be in the room, but was asked to leave because I suppose there was limited space in the room, so she was asked to leave,” Ambrin said when testifying in the joint trial of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy.

“As coordinator, her job is to take down notes of the discussion because that meeting discussed very important issues in our report. And as coordinator, it's standard that she has to follow all meetings,” he said.

Last week, Nor Salwani week said she was part of a NAD entourage including Ambrin that entered a meeting chaired by then Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa, but was immediately asked by Ali's staff to leave the room before the start.

She said she managed to slip in a voice recorder in the pencil case of her colleague Saadatul Nafisah Bashir Ahmad on the table in the meeting room in order to fulfill her task of taking down notes despite being chased out of the meeting room.

Sri Ram asked Ambrin today if it was wrong of Nor Salwani to have done so.

Sri Ram: She was asked to leave, she couldn't attend the meeting, we have evidence she placed a recording device in the pencil case of Puan Nafisah. Would you describe that as a breach of conduct?

Ambrin: You mean breach by Salwani? No. Because to me, if she had been able to attend the meeting, there's no need to record. She would have attended, as any other (meeting for) note-taking. And also it's for internal use.

Witness Nor Salwani Muhammad is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex November 21, 2019. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Witness Nor Salwani Muhammad is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex November 21, 2019. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

Nor Salwani said last week she retrieved the recording of the meeting and listened to it with other members of the NAD's audit team on 1MDB, who felt shocked with the abnormal requests for changes to the final 1MDB audit report.

Nor Salwani also testified last week that she kept the audio clip recording in a pendrive. The audio clip lasting around two hours and 40 minutes was played last week to Ali in court and is currently also being played to Ambrin in court today.

Ali last week testified that no minutes were taken during the February 24, 2016 meeting, which he said was called due on Najib’s instructions to allegedly remove parts he was dissatisfied with.

The meeting was also attended by others such as 1MDB’s Arul Kanda, Najib’s aide Tan Sri Shukry Mohd Salleh, Tan Sri Dzulkifli Ahmad from the Attorney-General’s Chambers and Finance Ministry officials.

It eventually resulted in four main changes to the 1MDB audit report before it was finalised and presented to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), including the existence of two different 1MDB financial statements for the same financial year and removal of mention of Najib’s failure to inform Cabinet about updates on a RM5 billion fund-raising exercise.

In this trial, Najib is accused of having misused his positions as prime minister and finance minister to order for the 1MDB audit report changes to avoid civil or criminal action, while Arul Kanda is accused of having helped Najib commit the alleged offence.

The trial before High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan resumes tomorrow morning, with Ambrin expected to continue taking the witness stand.

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