KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 26 — Arul Kanda Kandasamy today confirmed that the concerns about the auditor-general’s 2016 audit report on the government-owned company 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) was that it could be politically spun against then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Arul Kanda clarified that the concerns of political spin arising from the contents of the audit report was directly regarding Najib, instead of being about negative spin against 1MDB itself or even Malaysia.
Arul Kanda, the former CEO of 1MDB, said this while testifying as the 15th prosecution witness in Najib’s trial over the alleged tampering of the 1MDB audit report.
Today, Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah questioned Arul Kanda on his previous testimony that Najib was concerned about the political spin on the 1MDB audit report’s contents.
Arul Kanda had previously also said that he had kept in mind the concern of the 1MDB audit findings causing possible political spin to Najib’s detriment.
Shafee asked: “Now my question to you is this, were you not worried about politicians or political spin that affects or to the detriment of 1MDB itself?”
Arul Kanda paused for a while when considering this question, before replying: “Not directly, because the company was coming under attack anyway, left, right and centre at that time.”
Shafee then suggested that since 1MDB was already under attack, Arul Kanda’s actions of correcting contents in the 1MDB audit report would also result in the company’s interests being protected.
Shafee: So when you wanted to correct the position, were you not also in a way protecting the interests of the company?
Arul Kanda: That was one of the objectives.
Shafee: What about the nation’s interest? Because this is a sovereign fund of Malaysia. When you were correcting the wrong impression that may have been given, apart from Datuk Seri Najib’s interest that you were looking at — do not want it to be to his detriment — you have said it to 1MDB, but the other factor is the nation itself.
Arul Kanda: That was not in my mind at that time, I think that was above my pay grade to consider.
In this corruption trial, Najib is accused of having as then prime minister and then finance minister abused his position between February 22, 2016, and February 26, 2016, to receive self-gratification in the form of protection from civil or criminal action over his role in the handling of 1MDB operations.
Najib was alleged of having abused his power by instructing for amendments to the auditor-general’s report on 1MDB before it was presented to the parliamentary watchdog Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The amendments were alleged to have been made after the report was already finalised and ready to be given to the PAC.
Arul Kanda was accused of abetting Najib, but the High Court had previously allowed him to be called as a prosecution witness.
Previously on June 24, Arul Kanda had told this trial that Najib had on February 23, 2016 phoned him and asked him to attend a meeting on February 24, 2016.
The February 24 meeting was where amendments to the 1MDB audit report were discussed between the auditor-general, Arul Kanda, and government officials, despite the document being ready for presentation to the PAC.
Arul Kanda said Najib had given several reasons why he had to attend the meeting as 1MDB’s then president, noting that these reasons included defending the company’s interests and ensuring the NAD sticks to the scope of the audit which was to verify 1MDB’s accounts.
Arul Kanda had also testified in court that Najib had mentioned that “he had some concerns that the contents of the report could be spun from a political perspective”.
Asked if he was influenced by what Najib had told him when he attended the February 24 meeting, Arul Kanda said: “I had what he said in mind, ensuring the interest of the company was protected, ensuring the scope of the audit was relevant to the terms of reference of the Jabatan Audit Negara and yes, I also had in mind concerns that findings in the report could be spun politically.”
Arul Kanda had previously on June 24 confirmed to the court that his understanding was that the concern was that it would be spun to Najib’s detriment.
This trial before High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan is set to resume on September 2, where Najib’s lawyers are expected to cross-examine the final prosecution witness — Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) senior enforcement officer Haniff Lami.