Datuk Seri Najib Razak is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court July 16, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
KUALA LUMPUR, July 16 — An ex-CEO of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) today told the court that he had signed off on papers for the government-owned company to pay out more than US$576 million as a “deposit” to another company without questioning the figure as he did not suspect anything amiss and thought he was playing his part together with a purported “Team Najib” in furthering Malaysia’s interests.
Former 1MDB CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi also said he had believed Najib’s purported adviser Low Taek Jho to be on the “team”, but explained why Low — now a fugitive businessman believed to be hiding abroad — had wanted to keep a low profile on official records on 1MDB affairs.null
Shahrol had previously testified in court that he did not know then that the US$576 million was paid off to a fake British Virgin Islands-based company Aabar Investment PJS Ltd that had shared a similar name as Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund IPIC’s Abu Dhabi-based subsidiary Aabar Investment PJS. Shahrol’s previous testimony also showed that the fake company never returned the US$576 million “deposit” to 1MDB.
Shahrol was testifying as the ninth prosecution witness against former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, in the latter’s trial for alleged power abuse and money-laundering involving 1MDB funds.
Today, Najib’s lawyer Wan Aizuddin Wan Mohammed questioned Shahrol over a May 2012 agreement — “Collaboration agreement for credit enhancement” — which 1MDB subsidiary 1MDB Energy Limited had signed off on to justify the payment of the US$576,943,490 (nearly US$577 million) to the fake Aabar entity.null
Asked by Wan Aizuddin, Shahrol said he did not find the agreement peculiar at that time, explaining that he had taken it on “good faith” as what he believed to be the results of negotiations between the governments of Abu Dhabi and Malaysia.
Shahrol also confirmed that he had taken the word of Low, 1MDB general counsel or in-house lawyer Jasmine Loo and Goldman Sachs’ Tim Leissner when it came to the US$576 million matter and did not ask further questions.
Shahrol said he did not know the exact sum that 1MDB would be paying out when he signed the May 2012 agreement which did not state the amount and had only roughly known its amount, and only found out the actual final figure of over US$576 million when signing the remittance form.
Confirming that he had not asked 1MDB’s finance department about the actual amount before signing the May 2012 agreement, Shahrol however disagreed that he had breached his fiduciary duty as 1MDB Energy Limited director to act in the best interests of the company.
Shahrol agreed that the US$576 million payment to the British Virgin Islands-based Aabar was never presented to the 1MDB board and that the May 2012 agreement was not discussed in 1MDB board meetings before he signed it.
Confirming that Najib had not given any specific written approval either as prime minister or as 1MDB’s shareholder as finance minister for the May 2012 agreement, Shahrol agreed that such prior approval for sending such a big sum of money from 1MDB would have been necessary.
But Shahrol also asserted that this would be covered by a blanket approval given to authorise all necessary actions for 1MDB in the process of raising US$1.75 billion funds through IPIC-guaranteed bonds to buy power company Tanjong Energy Holdings Bhd.
Today, Shahrol further explained that he had thought that he was working in favour of Team Najib’s agenda for the country when he did not question the US$576 million payment.
“My state of mind at that point at the material time was that this was all part of fundraising and part of the IPIC guarantee that was already discussed at the highest level. I played my part as part of the team. I was not curious, and therefore, I did not question.
“Essentially, 1MDB and Datuk Seri Najib’s team. Because I see this as one of Datuk Seri Najib’s strategic agenda, especially the close relationship between Malaysia and Abu Dhabi,” he said, before going on to say that the members would include the 1MDB company, himself, Loo, Low and officers from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Agreeing that there was no formal circular to say that there was a “Team Najib”, Shahrol agreed that this was merely his state of mind then.
“I took it in good faith that they were playing their roles to further the relationship with Abu Dhabi to raise funds. I took it in good faith they were playing their roles without any malicious intent,” he said regarding individuals such as Low and Loo.
Why Low laid low
Asked by Wan Aizuddin why he did not disclose Low’s role to the 1MDB board despite having received instructions from Low on multiple 1MDB matters, Shahrol said this was at Low’s request.
“That was on his instructions from the very beginning already, when his overt involvement in TIA had raised some negative sentiments among Umno people, and therefore, when we moved to the 1MDB model, Jho informed me that he was to be kept low profile and not to officially bring his name into any of the board discussions,” he said.
When asked if he was protecting Low by putting Low’s interests ahead of 1MDB’s interests, Shahrol replied, “I was following his instructions on the basis that that was also what Datuk Seri Najib himself would have wanted,” but confirmed he had not personally checked with Najib if that was the case.
Wan Aizuddin: And this Jho Low, he is not a magical creature whereby when you say Jho Low, people will immediately at that point in 2012 say ‘oh, Jho Low is Datuk Seri Najib’s man’
Shahrol: I have no comment on that because I have no idea what other people know about Najib’s and Jho Low’s relationship.
Shahrol confirmed that he had not suspected Low of giving him directions to conduct illegal activities or to commit any wrongful act against 1MDB.
He agreed that it would therefore not be harmful to mention Low’s role to the 1MDB board but said that would go against the understanding he had to keep Low’s name out of 1MDB board minutes.
When reminded that Shahrol’s duty is to 1MDB and not Low, Shahrol said: “It’s just my decision and my feel at that time. It felt he was acting in the interests of Datuk Seri Najib and the company I didn’t question that, I took it in good faith that he was facilitating on behalf of Datuk Seri Najib and the country.”
Shahrol disagreed with Wan Aizuddin’s suggestion that the real reason that Low’s name was kept out of 1MDB board records was due to Shahrol being allegedly complicit in Low’s scheme to defraud 1MDB and take money illegally from the company.
Najib’s 1MDB trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes tomorrow (Friday) morning.
BY IDA LIM – MALAY MAIL