KUALA LUMPUR: The High Court today heard that it was a habit of fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho or Jho Low to change the names of offshore shell companies linked to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
This was revealed during cross-examination of former 1MDB chief executive officer Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi in the corruption trial of Datuk Seri Najib Razak over the misappropriation of RM2.28 billion from the sovereign wealth fund.
Under cross-examination by the former prime minister’s lawyer Wan Aizuddin Wan Mohammed, Shahrol agreed that it had always been Jho Low’s habit of incorporating offshore companies having similar names with well established companies.
However, when asked whether the masking of company’s names was Jho Low’s way of perfecting his plans to embezzle billions of dollars from 1MDB, the witness said he could not comment.
“I cannot comment on his motivation,” Shahrol said.
The matter sprang up when Wan Aizuddin was questioning the witness on Abu Dhabi Malaysia Investment Company (Admic) Ltd, a company which was initially registered as Malaysian Abu Dhabi Investment Company (Madic) on March 5, 2013.
It was later changed to Admic on March 12, the same year.
Wan Aizuddin: Do you know how the change of the name happened?
Shahrol: What was told to me by Jho Low was a bit funny. He told me that the Abu Dhabi guys were sensitive that Malaysia came first in the name before Abu Dhabi did. So I said “ikut suka dia orang lah (its up to them)”.
The lawyer then asked Shahrol whether he knew about a company called Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation, a private investment company in Abu Dhabi which also carried the same acronym ‘Admic’ and owned by Sheikh Mansor bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and British Sky Broadcasting.
Shahrol said he had never heard of the company’s name.
Wan Aizuddin then suggested that the change of the company’s name from Madic to Admic (Malaysia) was to confuse people, to which Shahrol refused to comment.
According to Shahrol’s witness statement, Admic (Malaysia) was Jho Low’s brainchild which was supposed to be the special purpose vehicle (SPV) for a fundraising project called “Project Catalyze joint venture” to raise USD$6 billion which was managed Loo as per Jho Low’s direction.
Asked if he knew the purpose of having an offshore company for the joint venture, the 50-year old witness said he did not raise any questions on that.
Wan Aizuddin: To your understanding, was there any benefit for the company to be offshore?
Shahrol: I left it all up to Jho Low and Jasmine Loo (then 1MDB general counsel). So I did not raise any questions.
Shahrol was then further asked on whether the change of company’s name was done to avoid scrutiny by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), Abu Dhabi and other authorities to which he said he could not comment on the motivation.
The court yesterday heard that the 1MDB management was duped to disburse almost USD$600 million to a fake company called Aabar Investments PJS Ltd (Aabar BVI) in 2012 for the development of TRX business district.
It was duped due to the similarity of the name of the actual company Aabar Investment PJS (without the limited), which was a subsidiary of IPIC (International Petroleum Investment Co).
Aabar BVI was in fact a company incorporated by Jho Low and his associates in British Virgin Islands (BVI).
The trial before judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah continues tomorrow.
Najib, 67, is facing 25 counts of abuse of power and money laundering involving RM2.28 billion of 1MDB funds which were deposited into his accounts between 2011 and 2014.
By Khairah N. Karim – NST