KUALA LUMPUR, May 19 — Tan Sri Mohd Bakke Salleh today explained that he did not complain about irregularities in 1Malaysia Development Berhad’s (1MDB) US$1 billion deal in 2009 directly to then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, as his complaint would be about his suspicion of Najib himself.
Bakke had resigned as 1MDB chairman in October 2009 shortly after taking up the job, with his resignation being in protest of how the 1MDB management had acted against the 1MDB board’s instructions over the deal involving US$1 billion of 1MDB funds.
Bakke gave the explanation of why he had not complained to Najib in 2009 while testifying today as the 15th prosecution witness in Najib’s trial over the misappropriation of more than RM2 billion of 1MDB funds.
Today, lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram asked why Bakke had not made a complaint to the Finance Ministry and then prime minister Najib about his own frustrations about what had happened in 1MDB.
Bakke then replied: "Well, because the thing that restrained me or discouraged me from doing that, is really, complaining against the PM.” Sri Ram then remarked: "Complaining the loss of sheep to the wolf”.
Bakke then said: "That was the thing, because from the early part of my involvement as a board member, I was not comfortable already, I had this feeling of discomfort, especially when I found out that management had split the remittance, so that was the trigger, I felt very uncomfortable about the whole thing.
"And that prompted me to resign, I wanted to resign on the spot. To go back to PM and tell him this is what had happened, I have my suspicion on you. I was not comfortable, so that’s difficult.
"But I suppose how I responded to Tan Sri Shafee’s question earlier is that looking at it in its entirety, maybe I should have done that, and be bold enough to say whether PM or not, I am prepared to stick out my neck, but it was not done,” he added.
Earlier, Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah had suggested that Bakke took the “easy way out” by resigning from 1MDB instead of resolving the controversies in the company, but Bakke disagreed with this.
Bakke agreed that a complaint could have been lodged with the Finance Ministry’s MOF Inc — which owned 1MDB — about how US$700 million of the US$1 billion had been diverted elsewhere against the 1MDB board’s specific instructions to put the entire US$1 billion sum in a joint venture company’s bank account.
The 1MDB management had sent the US$1 billion out in two tranches of US$300 million and US$700 million against the board’s orders, with the prosecution’s case being that some of the funds from the US$700 million had later went to Najib.
Bakke agreed with Shafee that he could have complained directly to then prime minister Najib — who was also the finance minister at the time.
Shafee: You could have expressed all your frustration and your findings of fact, that would support your and the board’s frustration, you could have sent this complaint not just to MOF Inc, officially give it to the PM because you are resigning, you could have done this but you chose not to do it. I’m putting to you, you could have done it, put it on record Mr PM, this is what I’m not happy about.
Bakke: Yes, could have done that, sure.
Among other things, Shafee also insisted that Bakke had “nothing to lose” and would not “have to pull your punches to curry favour” since he was already resigning from 1MDB and he could explain to Najib his reasons for resigning.
Shafee also tried to suggest that the issues in 1MDB that culminated in Najib’s trial may not have gone this far, if Bakke had cited the irregularities in 1MDB to Najib before resigning.
But Bakke replied with a firm “no”, explaining that the responsibility is not his alone as there was also subsequently a new chairman for the 1MDB board.
Disagreeing with the idea that all the mess today in 1MDB would not have happened if he had spoken to Najib, Bakke pointed out that the new 1MDB board could call on other board directors to attend to this matter.
Bakke confirmed that 1MDB board minutes had not recorded his frustrations over how the US$1 billion deal was handled but noted that it was discussed outside of official board meetings, noting: “It was not minuted like that, but definitely discussions taken place out of the board.”
Bakke had previously spoken of the anger that the 1MDB board felt upon finding that their instructions had not been complied with in the US$1 billion deal and that 1MDB management had not carried out any of the four conditions meant to safeguard 1MDB’s funds and position, and how he had took the other 1MDB directors aside to recommend that all of them resign due to their lost of trust in the 1MDB management.
Today, Bakke also confirmed that he had sent a text message to then prime minister Najib before he resigned and that Shafee had suggested there was no reassurance that Najib had actually received the message.
Asked by Sri Ram if he had met with Najib after he tendered his resignation as 1MDB chairman on October 19, 2009, Bakke replied “yes, many times”.
But when asked if Najib had ever asked why he resigned from 1MDB, Bakke said “no”.
Sri Ram: From your discussion with Datuk Seri Najib after you resigned from 1MDB, were you satisfied that he was aware you had resigned?
Bakke: Well, he never asked me why I resigned, so it was just business as usual.
Bakke also confirmed that there was a new 1MDB chairman after he had resigned.
Bakke yesterday explained that he decided on only sending the SMS to Najib instead of meeting the then prime minister, as he was suspicious that Najib would personally “benefit” and had a “personal interest” in the US$1 billion “investment” that Najib had instructed to be expedited.
Previously saying that he recalled using up the maximum word length for his SMS in October 2009 to Najib, Bakke yesterday summed up what he remembered telling the then prime minister, including how the 1MDB management had split the company’s US$1 billion into two transactions of US$700 million and US$300 million against the 1MDB board’s instructions and the 1MDB management’s failure to fulfill the four conditions set by the board as safeguards for the US$1 billion deal.
The 1MDB board had first found out about the joint venture proposal — which would require 1MDB to pump in US$1 billion — in a board meeting on September 18, 2009, but Najib had on September 26, 2009 — in a phone call on Low Taek Jho’s handphone to Bakke — urged the 1MDB board to firm up a decision quickly for the joint venture deal to be signed by the end of the month (which was just a few days away).
The prosecution previously said 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.
Najib’s 1MDB trial before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah is scheduled to resume on June 7.