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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 11 — No one had ever questioned during Cabinet meetings whether then finance minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak should not sit in the meetings due to possible conflict of interest in his multiple roles in relation to the Finance Ministry-owned firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a former senior civil servant told the High Court today.
Former Cabinet deputy chief secretary Mazidah Abdul Majid however also confirmed that she would not know if Najib had any personal interest in 1MDB or if he had received funds from the government-owned company, and if Najib had any conflict of interest when the Cabinet was discussing matters related to 1MDB.
Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah today highlighted that the government’s code of ethics for members of the administration — which binds ministers and the prime minister — explains what should be done if there was conflict of interest.
In the situation of a conflict of interest where a minister’s official duties clash with their personal interests such as if relatives have interest in a subject to be discussed in a Cabinet meeting, the minister should declare his interest and must not leave the meeting, Shafee said.
Mazidah had attended Cabinet meetings and prepared Cabinet meeting minutes throughout June 2000 to June 2018 when she was the Cabinet’s deputy chief secretary.
Asked what would happen if there was doubt or uncertainty on whether a minister had a conflict of interest, Mazidah told Shafee that she would first consult the chief secretary to the government who would also be present with her in Cabinet meetings.
If the chief secretary to the government was not able to resolve the issue, Mazidah said it would have to go up higher to the Attorney General’s Chambers for determination if there was conflict of interest.
Shafee: There have been situations when ministers will alert another minister, I think there could be conflict of interest. Or there’s doubt, why don’t we resolve it by you declaring and walking out?
Mazidah: Normally ministers when they know they have conflict of interest, they will announce it before the matter is discussed. Or if we secretariat know that the director is a sibling or cousin, we will tell, ‘you will have to go out’, things like that.
Shafee: In the case of Datuk Seri Najib vis-a-vis Terengganu Investment Authority, 1MDB, SRC, has there been any situation where anybody has raised issue that there is conflict, you can’t be in Cabinet?
Shafee: Because he sits as chairman of board of advisors in 1MDB, and he’s also finance minister, he’s also corporate representative of MOF Inc and also the prime minister, but all these are official positions. Has there been anyone at all who say this can produce a conflict of interest and therefore raised the matter, has there been anybody?
Mazidah: Not to my knowledge, no.
Najib was previously chairman of 1MDB’s board of advisors, while also being its shareholder via the Finance Ministry’s Minister of Finance Inc (MOF) Inc’s ownership of 1MDB due to his position as finance minister, and was also the prime minister.
Later, the prosecution’s deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib asked Mazidah if she would have knowledge of Najib having any personal interest in 1MDB.
Akram: In this case, would you know if Datuk Seri Najib has a personal interest in 1MDB? Tan Sri Shafee said just now he has official interest sitting as (1MDB) chairman of board of advisor, as MOF Inc, shareholder and prime minister, would you know if he has a personal interest in the company?
Mazidah: No, I don’t know.
Akram: Would you know if Datuk Seri Najib ever received monies from 1MDB?
Mazidah: No, I don’t know.
Akram: If Datuk Seri Najib did personally receive monies from 1MDB, would this be a personal conflict of interest? If he did receive money from this company personally, would that amount to a personal conflict of interest?
Mazidah: My personal opinion would be yes, but as it involves ministers and prime minister, I would suggest you get the opinion of the attorney general.
Asked again if receiving money from 1MDB would amount to a personal conflict of interest, Mazidah said it is not her place to make such a decision and that she would first ask the chief secretary of the government before going to the attorney general as the highest authority on the matter.
Mazidah today completed her testimony in the trial, having gone through various Cabinet documents including minutes of Cabinet meetings where Najib was present while matters related to 1MDB were discussed.
Najib’s 1MDB trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes next week.