KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 18 ― The 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) board had been “used” in order to make the government-owned company’s transactions look legitimate as they had only been fed with limited and misleading information, a former member told the High Court today.
Tan Sri Ismee Ismail said he also believed that the 1MDB directors could not have acted differently to protect the company based on the misleading and even lack of information given to them.
Ismee said this while testifying as the 13th prosecution witness in former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s trial involving more than RM2 billion of 1MDB funds.
Lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram said Najib’s lawyers would no doubt make the suggestion that 1MDB board members “were actually a bunch of toothless tigers and you failed to protect and advise the prime minister”.
Ismee gave an explanation of the situation that 1MDB’s board of directors members were in at that time. He said they were only given limited information, but said the directors still tried to make sure that 1MDB affairs were carried out properly.
“So in 2015, when we were the directors, we knew this much. In 2018, investigation, we found out more information; and over the course of this hearing, we discovered even more information. So much more information that we got to know when this case went on,” he said.
Ismee also elaborated on his testimony yesterday about how the 1MDB board of directors did not ask further questions of 1MDB’s proposed transactions and would sign off their approvals, if the 1MDB management showed shareholder resolutions where Najib had as finance minister already signed his approval for the MOF Inc-owned company’s deals.
“But as board members, our interest is always to protect the interest of the company. What I meant, we did not ask further questions, basically we will not question the transaction. Example, we want to do G2G [government-to-government] deal with Abu Dhabi, I won’t ask why Malaysia wants G2G with Abu Dhabi and not Qatar?
“But as board members, definitely we will question the viability of the transaction, we even asked about execution of the deal to make sure if it’s acquisition, valuation is done properly. That’s what I meant, we don’t ask further questions on the transaction itself,” he said.
Ismee also elaborated on why he described Low Taek Jho ― popularly known as Jho Low ― as Najib’s adviser for 1MDB.
He said it was based on his perception of Low working behind the scenes in 1MDB and cited how the latter had managed 1MDB’s relations with Abu Dhabi.
“I think it has been proven that he has good relationship with the Arabs basically,” Ismee said.
He affirmed once more his testimony yesterday that directors did not ignore the emails sent by Low about his proposals to 1MDB’s board and 1MDB management.
He added that he believed none of the 1MDB board members had actually read the emails.
“I personally can’t remember what was sent to me. What I could have done physically is say ‘thank you’ and ‘noted’ out of respect, but I believe none of the board members have ever taken instructions from him or bothered reading and trying to understand his emails.
“Based on all that, I don’t think we as board members could have acted differently to protect the interest of 1MDB. Me myself with all these new information and new revelations, how I could have acted differently? I would have turned down the appointment I suppose,” he said, referring to the idea that he may have refused to be a 1MDB director.
“So I guess, if I may, after going through all this, my anggapan [perception] now lah is, the board is being used to make all the initiatives, transactions appear legitimate, to the extent you know, misleading information was given to us, or worse still no information given to us and even concealing information from the board,” he said in concluding his lengthy answer to the question of 1MDB board of directors being possibly perceived as “toothless tigers”.
Ismee did not say however who or what had “used” the 1MDB board members.
Ismee had been a director in the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA) when it was set up in 2009, and had continued to be a director after TIA was renamed to 1MDB the same year.
Ismee today also said he had in June 2015 tried to quit as 1MDB director as he was worried and did not want to be involved in any of the company’s future decisions, but said Najib’s aide did not accept the resignation letter and asked him to postpone the resignation.
Ismee said he and the other 1MDB directors then resigned in 2016 as a new 1MDB board of directors was appointed.
Najib, who has to be physically present in his trials in order to ensure a fair trial, is expected to be in Singapore from November 21 to December 5 to visit his daughter and her newly-born child.
The 1MDB trial before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah is expected to resume on December 13, with Najib expected to have completed his quarantine upon his return from Singapore by then.