Ex-CEO says Jho Low, PMO, BN PAC members asked him to 'protect' Najib in 1MDB case

Datuk Seri Najib Razak is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on September 3, 2020. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Datuk Seri Najib Razak is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on September 3, 2020. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 3 — Multiple individuals ranging from now-fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) officials and Barisan Nasional (BN) members of a parliamentary watchdog had asked for then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to be “protected” in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) case, the company’s former CEO testified today.

Testifying today as the ninth prosecution witness in Najib’s power abuse and money-laundering trial over more than RM2 billion of 1MDB funds, Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi said he had received such instructions to “protect” Najib when he was 1MDB CEO and claimed that he later became a scapegoat as a result.

Shahrol Azral was CEO of 1MDB from 2009 to 2013, and later was a member of 1MDB’s board of directors from 2013 to 2016.

Shahrol Azral said he had from 2009 to 2016 received an estimated number of more than 100 “talking points” or written instructions via email or Blackberry text messages from Low, who is better known as Jho Low, with the belief that these instructions on 1MDB transactions and deals were given on behalf of Najib. 1MDB had carried out the instructions on deals and huge sums of money had been lost as a result.

Shahrol Azral said that he had, however, in 2015 destroyed the emails after receiving instructions from Low to do so, while the Blackberry messages had self-destructed through a feature of Blackberry on messages kept after some time, and that he had also destroyed digital documents where he had copied and kept information from the Blackberry messages.

“The Blackberry ones, the Word documents, I copied and paste some, but after receiving instructions, I was quite thorough in basically deleting the points, because the message is clear — ‘PM is under attack, you better protect him,” he said under cross-examination by Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.

Asked by Shafee, Shahrol confirmed he had in 2015 destroyed every single one of these documents due to Low’s instruction to destroy the information, agreeing that this was after 1MDB became a controversial issue and further said that he recalled this to be around the time of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) second inquiry on 1MDB.

Shahrol Azral said he had from 2009 to 2016 received an estimated number of more than 100 “talking points” or written instructions via email or Blackberry text messages from Low, who is better known as Jho Low, with the belief that these instructions on 1MDB transactions and deals were given on behalf of Najib.  — Picture via Facebook
Shahrol Azral said he had from 2009 to 2016 received an estimated number of more than 100 “talking points” or written instructions via email or Blackberry text messages from Low, who is better known as Jho Low, with the belief that these instructions on 1MDB transactions and deals were given on behalf of Najib. — Picture via Facebook

Later when asked by lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram on the source of the idea of “protecting” Najib in the 1MDB case, Shahrol Azral said this came from many individuals.

“Everybody, pretty much, not only from Jho, but from the officers in the PMO’s office that I had interacted with, the BN members of the PAC who I had interacted with. Even from the beginning I remember one or two occasions that the civil servants we dealt with in MOF used that phrase — ‘must protect the PM’,” he said.

When asked to name the PMO officials that had put forward the need to protect Najib as the prime minister, Shahrol Azral said the two names that he remembered now are Datuk Seri Ahmad Farid Ridzuan, who was in charge of Najib’s image branding and Najib’s then aide Datuk Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin.

Shahrol Azral also referred to Paul Stadlen, whom he said Low had introduced as “boss’s PR guy”.

“My understanding was that Paul was handling all the overseas PR (public relations) or perception management, and I met with him at what was then the Marriott Putrajaya. Paul was also steadfast — when I had a brief discussion with him — about protecting Datuk Seri Najib,” Shahrol Azral said.

Sri Ram: Protecting him from what?

Shahrol Azral: From reputational damage at that time. Remember at that time Wall Street Journal articles were coming in fast and thick.

Former 1MDB CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on September 3, 2020. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Former 1MDB CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on September 3, 2020. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Asked to name some of the BN members of the bipartisan parliamentary watchdog PAC that had also asked him to protect Najib, Shahrol Azral said: “I met with chairman at that time, YB Hasan Arifin. I can’t remember the names or faces but there were at least one or two other members of PAC present in Datuk Seri Farid’s home and uniformly the objective of that discussion was to again protect the PM.”

Shahrol Azral testified that what he told the PAC during its inquiry on 1MDB affairs was affected as a result, and that he was made out to be a “kambing hitam” or scapegoat.

Sri Ram: Was your evidence before the PAC influenced in any way by these meetings?

Shahrol Azral: Of course. The fact that any mention of Jho Low is removed and the responsibility for all the decisions were put on my shoulders.

Sri Ram: So you will take the blame?

Shahrol Azral: Yes.

Sri Ram: What the Americans call the ‘fall guy’.

Shahrol Azral: Yes, the Malays call it ‘kambing hitam’.

Najib’s trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah is expected to continue next Monday.

Previously in October 2019, Shahrol Azral spoke of a meeting with some PAC members held at Farid’s house before he was due to testify in PAC’s 2015 inquiry on 1MDB to prepare him for the type of questions that would be asked. Shahrol Azral had also in October 2019 said he was told to downplay any role that Najib had in 1MDB decisions due to the purported political attacks against him.

The PAC had reportedly quizzed Shahrol on November 25 and November 30, 2015 for the 1MDB probe. This 2015 inquiry was the second one by the PAC, as it had in 2010 also conducted investigations on 1MDB.

‘Team Najib’

Earlier, when Shafee asked if he had suspected Low over his 2015 instructions to destroy the written instructions in the form of talking points, but Shahrol Azral said he did not find it suspicious then.

“I wasn’t suspicious. I took it on good faith, again, that he was acting to protect the interest of the PM at that time and it tallies with the actions of some of the other people I have also met. For example, I don’t remember if it was before or after he instructed me to delete the emails, he introduced me to Paul Stadlen,” he replied.

When Shafee further pressed him on whether he had thought that Low had laid him open to be accused of wrongdoing as he has no documents to back his assertion after destroying them on Low’s direction, Shahrol Azral maintained his belief at that time that he was working for the country’s benefit.

“No, not at that time. I think that feeling of suspicion started manifesting itself after the first interviews with the police in 2015 and 2016, but during the material time when I was CEO, I was completely trusting of the fact that the system is there and it works and we are working towards the betterment of the country and the direction of the shareholder,” he told Shafee.

Later when asked by Sri Ram to explain his comment that he had believed and acted on the instructions received regarding 1MDB matters as well as his remark of being part of ‘Team Najib’, Shahrol Azral elaborated on his belief of doing good for Malaysia.

“What I meant was that we—the management and board of 1MDB—were supporting Datuk Seri Najib, but for me especially, I was sold on 1MDB because the idea was that 1MDB is a vehicle for Datuk Seri Najib to move the country forward to do things differently, to kick off these fantastic projects and investments and I believed in that. And I believed that he had the interest of the country at heart and at that time, I believed that this is an honourable mission and I was doing everything I could to support him,” he said.

Among other things, Shahrol Azral had testified today that Najib is the ultimate authority of 1MDB and also affirmed his belief that the instructions from Low on 1MDB affairs had come from Najib.

Shahrol Azral also testified that Najib was among those who had benefited from the 1MDB scheme where the company lost massive sums of money, while also asserting that Najib was in the know of Low’s role in 1MDB and had firm grasp of 1MDB matters.

Najib’s trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah is expected to continue next Monday.

Today is the 40th day that Shahrol Azral has taken to the witness stand in this trial since he began testifying on September 23, 2019, and he was supposed to have completed his testimony today.

Najib’s lawyer Wan Aizuddin Wan Mohammed today applied to recall Shahrol Azral to further quiz him on certain transactions due to alleged unfairness in the prosecution’s questioning, but the judge asked for the trial to proceed with the next witness first on Monday and asked for Wan Aizuddin to make the application again on another day.

The judge however made it clear that this was not a rejection of Najib’s lawyer’s application to recall Shahrol Azral but merely to allow the trial to move on first.

“I think for now I will release this witness subject to recall. On Monday we proceed with the next witness. On Monday we proceed with the next witness, I’m not denying your application. I’m saying I don’t want it to be done now. I’m putting it on hold if you still want to proceed with it, I will entertain it at that point in time. I’m not saying no, let’s see the next witness on Monday,” the judge said.

The judge noted that Wan Aizuddin could either make the application again at any stage of the trial even after a few other witnesses have testified, or could still opt to perhaps make the application next week if he wanted to “strike while the iron is hot and not wait”.

This means that Shahrol Azral is released as a witness for now, but can be recalled for cross-examination by Najib’s lawyers if the judge allows their application to recall him.

The prosecution said the next witness that it would call is Shahrol Azral’s successor as CEO in 1MDB, Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman.

 

 

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