1MDB auditor says Ambrin ‘frustrated’ with unprecedented demands to censor audit report

Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court January 13, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court January 13, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 13 — Former Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang was upset with requests and calls from high-ranking government and 1MDB officials to delete parts of the completed audit report on 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a government auditor said in court today.

Saadatul Nafisah Bashir Ahmad, 65, is now retired but had led the special audit team under the National Audit Department (NAD) that audited 1MDB in two phases (March 10 — June 15, 2015 and July 10 — October 31, 2015).

Saadatul Nafisah said the audit team had completed the final audit report that was sent for printing on February 20, 2016 and was scheduled to be presented to the parliamentary watchdog Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on February 24, 2016.

But before the report could be presented to the PAC, 1MDB auditors were asked in a February 24, 2016 meeting attended by Ambrin and Saadatul Nafisah to remove items from the completed report.

When asked about Ambrin’s demeanour after he left the February 24, 2016 meeting, Saadatul Nafisah said she had not noticed this immediately, but said he looked “frustrated”.

“Actually I don’t realise so much about his reaction — those people waiting outside the room realise — because I was quite busy, still discussing, taking my documents, arranging my documents. 

“Actually I didn’t realise how Tan Sri looked like until we went back to the office and sit down, he looks a bit frustrated, as auditor-general he was not happy with this,” she said while testifying as the seventh prosecution witness against former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy.

Ambrin had last year also testified during the trial that he was frustrated at being asked to reopen the final audit report despite previous opportunities for 1MDB to provide information and respond.

As for her feelings after the meeting, Saadatul Nafisah alluded to the fact that 1MDB had already been given the chance previously to provide feedback on the audit findings and to provide any supporting documents.

“I felt very frustrated because we have been working so hard, we had given opportunity to 1MDB, we discussed,” she said.

She also pointed out that the 1MDB audit team had based the audit report on documents and was stating the facts, noting that the four issues that the audit team was asked to remove were not major issues and were on top of more improprieties linked to 1MDB.

“I told them, in the meeting we do discuss, these are not big issues. Most of it is our opinion, whatever issues we raised we have documents, we raise it in such a way it’s just a statement of facts. 

“If you really read this audit report, there are more improper compared to the four issues that we dropped,” she added.

She said a meeting such as the one on February 24, 2016 where auditors were asked to remove content from the 1MDB audit report had “never” happened throughout her career in the NAD from 1979 until her retirement in 2016.

Saadatul Nafisah said that the final report on the 1MDB audit was already completed and ready to be presented to the PAC, and would have been the version submitted if the auditors were not asked in the February 24, 2016 meeting to make amendments.

“Yes, this document would have gone to the PAC, this document was ready to be tabled to the PAC,” she said, referring to the original report without amendment.

In the end, the special 1MDB audit team only presented its findings to the PAC on March 4 and March 7, 2016, after making amendments to the final audit report and with the amended version printed out only on March 2, 2016.

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

The recording

Saadatul Nafisah today was also asked to listen to a recording lasting about two hours and 40 minutes of the February 24, 2016 meeting.

The recording was made as a result of the 1MDB special audit team coordinator Nor Salwani Muhammad placing a recording device in Saadatul Nafisah’s pencil case, after she was told to leave the meeting room despite having the role of taking minutes of the meeting for the auditors’ internal work.

When asked by lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, Saadatul Nafisah said that she had carried a pencil case with her into the meeting room on February 24, 2016, but was not aware that Nor Salwani had placed a recording device in the pencil case.

Saadatul Nafisah said she had only become aware “later”, saying: “I came out from the room, she told me.”

Saadatul Nafisah said she and six leaders of the 1MDB audit team’s sub-teams had went to the February 24, 2016 meeting held in then chief secretary to the government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa’s office and chaired by Ali, but said Ali had asked for only her and Ambrin to attend the meeting.

“Therefore, all other leaders of the special 1MDB audit team were asked to wait outside the meeting room along with the related documents and paperwork,” she said.

Saadatul Nafisah said the special 1MDB audit team comprised of 14 individuals including herself and Nor Salwani, with the team further divided into sub-teams that carried out audit on specific topics such as 1MDB’s bonds via Islamic Medium Term Notes, SRC International Sdn Bhd, financial analysis, energy sector and the 1MDB Development group.

Saadatul Nafisah was testifying during the seventh day of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and 1MDB’s former CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy in their joint trial for allegedly tampering the fund’s final audit report.

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