1MDB trial: Ex-CEO agrees Jho Low had penchant for doppelgänger firms

Former 1MDB CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex August 5, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Former 1MDB CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex August 5, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 5 ― Fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho or Jho Low had a tendency of incorporating shell corporations that mimicked legitimate firms, the High Court heard today.

The ninth prosecution witness in Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s main 1MDB corruption trial, Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi agreed when the defence asked him if Low had an inclination for the practice.

The former 1MDB chief executive was answering to Najib’s lawyer, Wan Aizuddin Wan Mohammed, about the abortive US$6 billion (RM25.2 billion) joint venture between Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJS and 1MDB in 2013.

1MDB at the time pumped in US$3 billion into a 50:50 joint venture firm called Abu Dhabi Malaysian Investment Company Limited (ADMIC).

Wan Aizuddin asked Shahrol about the formation of the company, why it was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, and how ADMIC that was originally named as Malaysian Abu Dhabi Investment Company Limited was eventually renamed.

Shahrol said Low had impressed upon him that officials in Abu Dhabi were not satisfied that Malaysia came first in the name of the company and eventually agreed to change it.

“Through Jho I was presented that the Abu Dhabi guys were a bit sensitive as Malaysia had come first in the name, So I said ‘Ikut suka hari dioranglah’ (up to them) and agreed to change it. But Jasmine and Hazem were left to execute the name change but I never personally instructed them to do so,’’ he said.

Shahrol was referring to 1MDB then legal counsel Jasmine Loo and chief operating officer Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman.

However, Wan Aizuddin then pointed out that the joint venture company’s initials, ADMIC, were similar to another Abu Dhabi investment entity called the Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corp (ADMIC), a private company equally owned by Sheikh Mansour Zayed Al Nahyan and British Sky Broadcasting.

Wan Aizuddin then asked Shahrol whether Low had a tendency of incorporating companies offshore and named them to other similar legitimate entities, to which Shahrol agreed.

Wan Aizuddin cited examples such as the Blackstone Asia Real Estate Partners Ltd that is purportedly a shell company controlled by Low, which is almost similar to the US-based Blackstone Real Estate.

When pressed to say whether Low executed the name change as means to defraud 1MDB, Shahrol said he could not comment as he did not know Low’s intention at the time.

Shahrol also reserved his comment when Wan Aizuddin suggested that Low’s intention to incorporate ADMIC in the British Virgin Islands was to avoid scrutiny from Malaysian and Abu Dhabi authorities.

Shahrol explained that he had followed Low’s talking points on forming ADMIC, running up to 1MDB and Aabar investment inking the deal on March 12, 2013 ― the signing ceremony was attended by Najib and the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates.

Shahrol said he entrusted the details of the deal to Loo, Hazem as well Low as he was about to leave his post as chief executive on March 16, 2013.

Shahrol previously testified that 1MDB had raised US$3 billion funds through bonds via a special purpose vehicle (SPV) set up by Malaysia with Aabar, called 1MDB Global Investment Limited (1MDB GIL).

However, the deal never materialised as ADMIC did not carry out any investment activities.

To make matters worse, Aabar also did not provide its share of the US$3 billion.

Shahrol also testified before that when he left his position as the chief executive, 1MDB had accumulated RM 30 billion of debt as of March 2013, just five years after its formation. 

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