KUALA LUMPUR, May 20 — Tan Sri Mohd Bakke Salleh today said that there was no record or mention of Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s crucial phone call on a US$1 billion deal in a 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) board meeting minutes in 2009 and the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) inquiry in 2016, as the 1MDB directors had agreed to keep the then prime minister’s name out of the public domain.
Bakke was the 1MDB chairman from September 2009 until October 19, 2009, when he had resigned to protest the irregularities in 1MDB’s US$1 billion deal.
Bakke was testifying as the 15th prosecution witness in Najib’s trial over the misappropriation of over RM2 billion of 1MDB funds, with the prosecution previously saying it would prove that about US$20 million (equivalent to RM60,629,839.43) of the money from the US$1 billion deal ended up in Najib’s bank account.
The 1MDB board of directors were first notified in a September 18, 2009 board meeting about the proposed joint venture with purported Saudi firm PetroSaudi International which would require 1MDB to put in US$1 billion, and had requested 1MDB management to do the necessary due diligence and to provide updates at the next board meeting on September 26, 2009.
But just before the 1MDB board meeting on September 26, 2009 could start, Low Taek Jho — now a fugitive better known as Jho Low — who was in the meeting room then passed his own handphone to Bakke by saying “PM on the line, want to speak to you”.
Asked by Najib to quickly firm up a decision on the US$1 billion deal and having conveyed Najib’s instructions to expedite the matter to other 1MDB board members, Bakke previously said the 1MDB board decided on September 26 to unanimously agree to approve the deal following Najib’s instructions — despite the due diligence yet to be done by the 1MDB management.
Today, Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah asked why the 1MDB board did not mention this phone call by Najib in the minutes of the 1MDB board meeting on September 26, 2009.
Bakke confirmed that he had told the other 1MDB directors before the start of this board meeting — about the phone conversation with then prime minister Najib, but that this same phone call was not mentioned during the board meeting.
Shafee: But in the meeting itself, did you take it up with members of the board?
Bakke: We didn’t. We discussed it before the commencement of the board meeting, there was also consensus among board members, we should not be referring or mention this in minutes itself.
Shafee: Why can’t you mention officially, the PM didn’t say don’t put name in meeting? What is wrong if you were to place it on record that the PM made a phone call for us to seriously consider this and make a decision?
Bakke: Looking retrospectively, maybe we should have done that. But that time, the decision was not to put in minutes.
Later when asked by Shafee about whether the reluctance to mention the prime minister’s name was a kind of “culture” in 1MDB or in government-linked companies, Bakke said that this was a decision reached by the 1MDB board members for the September 26, 2009 meeting.
Shafee: But what is the rationale?
Bakke: That time, maybe it was felt that we should not put the PM in the public domain by mentioning his name, etc. That was the rationale used.
Najib’s phone call not mentioned to PAC
As for records of the February 11, 2016 proceedings for PAC’s inquiry into 1MDB, it showed that Bakke had testified to the PAC that Low was invited by the 1MDB management to attend the September 26, 2009 board meeting.
Shafee noted that this was Bakke’s response when asked during the PAC hearing if Low had attended any 1MDB meetings, remarking that Bakke had mentioned Low’s presence on September 26: “So when you were asked, you told the story, you didn’t hide about it.”
Shafee noted however that the PAC proceedings records did not carry any mention by Bakke about Najib’s phone call on the US$1 billion deal.
Shafee: And then, when this was asked of you about September 26, that was the first opportunity that you had, you could have mentioned in relation to speed or perceived speed by you of the joint venture, you could have mentioned phone call by PM through Jho Low, because you were provided the opportunity — did Jho Low attend, you said yes, attended. But I had scoured through the whole of this document, the episode of you receiving a phone call from the PM is totally absent.
After Bakke confirmed that the PAC proceedings transcript did not carry mention of Najib’s phone call, Shafee then asked whether there was a reason why Bakke did not mention this to the PAC.
“Again it goes back to what was agreed earlier by board members that we should not allude or mention anything on PM, especially the phone call, so that was the understanding and agreement among board members,” Bakke said.
Asked by Shafee if it was “strictly unnecessary” to mention Najib’s phone call, Bakke agreed.
Bakke also agreed with Shafee’s suggestion that he would have mentioned the phone call if it was necessary as he would not hide anything.
Previously, Bakke had said there was a consensus by 1MDB directors to not state in meeting minutes about the phone conversation with Najib as it took place before the September 26 meeting officially took place, and as they did not want to have anything linked to the prime minister reflected in the meeting minutes.
Earlier today, Bakke said Najib had in another phone call to him in 2016 asked him to meet then PAC chairman Datuk Seri Hasan Arifin at the house of former TV3 CEO Datuk Seri Ahmad Farid Ridzuan, about two weeks before Bakke was to testify in the PAC hearing on 1MDB.
Bakke said that the two meetings he had attended with Hasan was based on the concern of safeguarding the then prime minister Najib’s reputation from the fallout from 1MDB, and that he was told to avoid mention of Low and Najib in the PAC hearings.
Bakke however said he did not allow anyone to influence him and that he was not going to mince his words, confirming that he would not compromise his testimony at the PAC inquiry.
Najib’s 1MDB trial before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes tomorrow.