KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 14 — Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) did not know that there was RM2.6 billion in then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's private AmBank bank account before the 13th general election in 2013.
Former BNM governor Tan Seri Zeti Akhtar Aziz said Malaysia’s central bank only found out after a raid on AmBank in 2015 that the actual sum of money that went into Najib’s account was RM3.2 billion.
Zeti told the High Court this today as the 46th prosecution witness in Najib's trial, where RM2.28 billion of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) funds were said to have entered the latter's personal bank accounts.
She was asked by deputy public prosecutor Kamal Baharin Omar if either BNM or she had personal knowledge about the RM2.6 billion in Najib's account.
“No, the central bank at that material time had no knowledge about the large funds in his accounts,” she replied in relation to a July 2, 2018 report in which Najib alleged in an interview with news portal Malaysiakini that Zeti was aware before GE13 of the RM2.6 billion in his account.
In that same 2018 news report, Najib reportedly said he expected BNM to tell him if it knew about the RM2.6 billion in his account and if it knew there could be some doubts about the source of the funds.
He was reported adding that he “assumed all along that it was fine” as BNM did not tell him so.
While there was a June 2013 letter from Najib to the BNM to ask for approval to convert RM2.26 billion in his bank account to US dollars to purportedly return the money as the unused balance of donations and personal gifts to him, Zeti said it was a different figure from the amount of RM2.6 billion mentioned by Najib in the 2018 news report.
“He mentioned the number RM2.6 billion, and there's a big difference between RM2.6 billion and RM2.26 billion,” she told the court.
Asked by Kamal Baharin if there were any letters stating RM2.6 billion in Najib's account, Zeti said that there was no such letter found.
“But during the raid, it was uncovered that actually RM3.2 billion had flowed into, was remitted into the account. RM3.2 billion, which is much higher than RM2.6 billion,” she said, referring to the 2015 joint raid by BNM and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) on AmBank.
Zeti also told the court that BNM would not be able to know the amount of money in Najib's account, as AmBank did not lodge any suspicious transaction report on the account.
“Bank Negara would not be able to know unless there was a suspicious transaction report that was lodged.
“But over and above that, what was uncovered during the raid was not only did AmBank not submit any suspicious transaction report, but the most serious which subjected them to a compound in lieu of prosecution, was the most serious offence – that was to omit reporting the inflow of several funds and also to give false information on the inflow of funds,” she said.
Zeti said that AmBank not only failed to report on several tranches of money that went into Najib's account, but had also falsely reported several tranches of funds as going into AmBank's own account when the money actually went into Najib's account.
She said it is the banks themselves that decides whether a person like Najib is a “politically exposed person” (PEP) through the banks' due diligence process.
She said that it is not BNM that decides on whether or not to classify individuals as PEPs.
When asked if she personally knew that Najib was a PEP at that time, Zeti said no, as she did not know how the banks had classified him then.
Zeti says that it is not the function of central banks such as BNM to conduct surveillance on individual personal bank accounts.
She said that this is practised worldwide, and added that Malaysia's anti-money laundering laws require banks to carry out their own due diligence and to lodge a suspicious transaction report to BNM within three days of detecting suspicious or irregular activity.
Zeti said that BNM is then required to immediately notify law enforcement authorities after receiving a suspicious transaction report, but that the central bank would not be allowed under the law to tell anyone else, including the account holder Najib.
Responding to Najib's claim that BNM should inform him if it had some doubts about the source of the RM2.6 billion in his account, Zeti today said: “At that material time, we had no knowledge. But if suspicions had been raised, the law requires that Bank Negara have to immediately report it to the law enforcement agencies, in this particular case it would be the MACC and police, and the law also prohibits Bank Negara from informing anyone else, which includes of course the account holder.”
Kamal Baharin then asked: “Based on investigations conducted by Bank Negara Malaysia under the anti-money laundering regime, whether Bank Negara or Tan Sri, did anytime during that particular period of time Datuk Seri Najib Razak inquire about the source of transactions of his four accounts?”
Zeti replied: “He did not.”
Najib's trial before judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes this afternoon with the defence expected to cross-examine Zeti.