Who started Saudi ‘generous donation’ for 1MDB’s charitable arm? No info in Cabinet minutes, says witness in Najib trial

Datuk Seri Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on February 11, 2021. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Datuk Seri Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on February 11, 2021. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 11 — The written records of a Cabinet meeting in September 2010 did not mention who had initiated a purported “generous donation” from Saudi Arabia for 1Malaysia Development Berhad’s charitable arm Yayasan 1MDB, a witness told the High Court today.

Tan Sri Mazidah Abdul Majid, formerly the Cabinet’s deputy chief secretary from 2000 until 2018, had sat in Cabinet meetings during this period and was responsible for preparing minutes of the meetings.

Testifying as the 11th prosecution witness in former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s corruption trial over 1MDB funds, Mazidah was asked about a September 8, 2010 Cabinet meeting where Najib was recorded as having spoken about the late Saudi crown prince Sultan Abdul Aziz Al-Saud’s purported agreement to donate via his charity foundation to Yayasan 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Najib was also recorded as having claimed then that the first donation had already been received and that there was promise of subsequent donations, with the Saudi royal also alleged to have asked for the purported donation to not be announced.

While cross-examining Mazidah, Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah asked if the Cabinet minutes had said who started the donation process.

Shafee: Now I move on from there. I just want to put one question only. There is nothing stated here, who initiated the generous donation from the Saudi government for the purposes stated here. There is nothing stated here who initiated.

Mazidah: No.

Earlier, Shafee highlighted that the Cabinet meeting minutes had also stated then prime minister Najib’s explanation that he was currently carrying out “formal and informal engagement” with certain quarters in Middle East nations who had given positive response towards many matters involving Malaysian interests.

Asked what she understood Najib to have meant with his explanation, Mazidah said that formal engagement would be government-to-government (G2G) engagement, while informal engagement would be based on personal relationships.

When Shafee suggested that informal engagement could include personal relationships of individuals in both Malaysia and Saudi Arabia setting up arrangements that are then communicated to a prime minister or ambassador or foreign affairs minister, Mazidah said: “Yes, there would be so many ways to look at it but how things are being done, I am not privy to it, but as far as I can say, what is informal could be personal relationships of persons.”

Shafee went on to suggest that there would be a “backchannel” approach to informally iron out matters between governments, but Mazidah said: “I have not heard of a backchannel but I presume there is a protocol you have to follow before a formal meeting between leaders.”

Mazidah also confirmed that she would not know who were involved in the informal engagement.

Tan Sri Mazidah Abdul Majid arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Courts Complex June 20, 2019. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Tan Sri Mazidah Abdul Majid arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Courts Complex June 20, 2019. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

Earlier, the prosecution’s deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib had also asked Mazidah regarding the September 8, 2010 Cabinet meeting minutes where mention was made by Najib of the alleged donation from the Saudi crown prince.

Akram: During this discussion, during this meeting, when the matter of donation to Yayasan 1MDB was discussed, did Datuk Seri Najib state or present to the Cabinet that someone named Low Taek Jho or Jho Low had assisted in this matter?

Mazidah: I don’t recall that matter. But if it was stated during this discussion, then it will be recorded. If it is not recorded, I think no.

Asked to check this September 8, 2010 meeting minutes as well as about 20 documents including minutes of other Cabinet meetings, Mazidah was then given time to flip through and scrutinise all of these documents.

She then confirmed that Low’s name was not seen in any of these documents.

Shafee later also asked Mazidah about whether she would have remembered Low’s name if it was mentioned in Cabinet meetings but categorised as “off-record” sensitive information not to be written down in meeting minutes, but she said she may not even have known the name as she only became aware of the name after the 1MDB issue cropped up.

Najib’s 1MDB trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence resumes next Monday.

Shahrol Azral, who was 1MDB CEO from 2009 until early 2013, had said that he had never cashed the four cheques as he did not receive any instructions to do so. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Shahrol Azral, who was 1MDB CEO from 2009 until early 2013, had said that he had never cashed the four cheques as he did not receive any instructions to do so. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Previously, 1MDB’s former CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi had as the ninth prosecution witness in Najib’s 1MDB trial also testified how Low had in September 2010 handed him four signed cheques for 1MDB to hold on to, as Low had claimed of an alleged planned US$100 million donation from the Saudi royal family to Yayasan 1MDB.

Shahrol Azral, who was 1MDB CEO from 2009 until early 2013, had said that he had never cashed the four cheques as he did not receive any instructions to do so, and that he had passed the four cheques to 1MDB’s finance department for safekeeping when he was no longer CEO as Low did not give further instructions.

Further details such as the recipient named, the individual amount and date for each cheque were not read out in court while Shahrol Azral was testifying, but news outlet The Edge had previously reported that the four cheques were made out to Yayasan 1MDB as the recipient.

Najib’s 1MDB trial involves 25 criminal charges — four counts of abusing his position for his own financial benefit totalling almost RM2.3 billion allegedly originating from 1MDB and the resulting 21 counts of money laundering.

At the start of the trial, the prosecution had said it will show evidence to prove that Najib had allegedly together with his “mirror image” Low tried to cover his tracks after the 1MDB scandal broke in 2015, where alleged sham documents including four uncashed cheques for US$25 million each from a purported Arab donor were produced to fake a donation from an Arab prince.

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