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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 14 — Low Taek Jho was the trusted right-hand man of then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) affairs, the company’s former CEO Mohd Hazem Abd Rahman told the court today.
Mohd Hazem noted that while Low had insisted on operating behind the scenes, the businessman who is better known as Jho Low was allegedly actually the one who gave orders and instructions on behalf of Najib on 1MDB matters and decisions.
Mohd Hazem was testifying as the 10th prosecution witness in Najib’s power abuse and money laundering trial over more than RM2 billion of 1MDB funds.
Mohd Hazem claimed Low had told him that all 1MDB directors allegedly knew him and knew that 1MDB affairs were for Najib’s interests and with Low acting as Najib’s “proxy”.
In court today, Mohd Hazem also described Low as being an “important person placed by Datuk Seri Najib in 1MDB as 1MDB special adviser involving investment and fundraising”, basing this on his understanding when he was first introduced to Low in July 2012 and also Low’s insistence in having his instructions followed as funds raised through 1MDB’s overseas investments were to be for Umno’s interests.
Mohd Hazem said he had no choice but to follow instructions relayed via Low’s proxy in 1MDB management — Jasmine Loo — as Low allegedly directly reported instructions from Najib, saying that he did not see Najib’s instructions to Low but had based it on the man’s direct access to the then prime minister.
Explaining why he viewed Low as Najib’s “right-hand man” to arrange 1MDB matters, Mohd Hazem highlighted that his first meeting and introduction to Low was via Najib’s then principal private secretary Datuk Azlin Alias, which he said clearly showed “Jho Low has access to PMO’s team and carries the PM’s mandate”.
Mohd Hazem said Azlin himself had confirmed that Low “represents” then PM Najib in 1MDB.
Mohd Hazem also pointed out Low’s direct access to Najib, observing that he had noted Low’s presence at several meetings with Najib about 1MDB affairs.
“I verify Jho Low’s presence with Datuk Seri Najib in several places overseas such as in New York in 2013 and in Abu Dhabi around 2013 and 2014 when I attended signing ceremonies or meetings with foreign investors,” he said.
“In several meetings about 1MDB with Datuk Seri Najib (PM) in his house, I saw the PM discussing with Jho Low first before he would meet me. After that, all of us would discuss 1MDB issues where Jho Low played an active role in the discussions,” he added.
Other factors that also led to Mohd Hazem’s view of Low as Najib’s right-hand man for 1MDB matters was how Low had arranged for his own proxies Jasmine Loo and Terence Geh to hold senior management positions in the company when such appointments had to be approved by Najib as the prime minister, as well as Low had arranged the 1MDB board of director to enable easy approval by the directors of all 1MDB activities.
Jho Low’s orders are Najib’s orders, witness claims
Mohd Hazem said that he would not just comply with Low’s instructions on 1MDB affairs as such orders sometimes clashed with the company’s wishes and corporate governance, and would instead choose to follow the proper process such as seeking the 1MDB board of directors’ approval and following proper due diligence.
“I have several times opposed and rejected Jho Low’s wishes that were dubious especially for investments that might not be feasible.
“But after that, Datuk Azlin would meet with me and advise me to carry out whatever instructions that Jho Low had planned behind the scenes without questioning it.
“Datuk Azlin said that whatever instructions from Jho Low were the instructions of Datuk Seri Najib who is the prime minister and also my chief,” he added, referring to his role as 1MDB CEO who reports to the Finance Ministry-owned 1MDB’s shareholder Najib via the latter’s role as finance minister.
Mohd Hazem also claimed that Azlin had told him that all directions from Low would eventually be signed off by Najib as the latter knew of all the activities initiated by Low.
Mohd Hazem said however that he was not able to directly meet with Najib and had to go through Low and Azlin if he had anything to ask or wanted to speak to the then prime minister.
According to Mohd Hazem, 1MDB’s senior management and all of the company’s board of directors knew that Low played an important role from behind the scenes by influencing all the company’s decisions, including to participate in joint ventures for purported investments and to raise funds overseas by issuing bonds.
“As I said above, he is Datuk Seri Najib’s trusted man and any orders from him automatically come from Datuk Seri Najib,” Mohd Hazem said of Low, describing Low as being the one who determines 1MDB’s directions in investments, funds and government-to-government relations including with Abu Dhabi.
To back his view of Low’s role in relation to Najib, Mohd Hazem said this was shown by Najib’s final decision and execution being consistent with the plans made by Low including via action plans and written talking points.
For example, Mohd Hazem cited instances such as when he was shown Najib’s signed approval on behalf of 1MDB’s shareholder MOF Inc even before the approved matter was presented to 1MDB’s board of directors, noting: “This convinced me to proceed on Jho Low’s instructions as it shows Datuk Seri Najib gave early approval.”
Najib’s lawyer Wan Aizuddin Wan Mohammed repeatedly stood up during Mohd Hazem’s testimony to record the defence’s objections to paragraphs about what Low or Azlin had allegedly told the former 1MDB CEO, on the grounds of such statements allegedly being hearsay as the now-fugitive Low and the late Azlin could not appear as witnesses in this trial.
Najib’s trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes tomorrow, with Hazem expected to continue testifying.
On the first day of the trial, the prosecution had said it would show that Low was Najib’s alter ego and mirror image.