KUALA LUMPUR : Multiple individuals ranging from now-fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) officials and Barisan Nasional (BN) members of a parliamentary watchdog had asked for then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to be “protected” in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) case, the company’s former CEO testified today.
Testifying yesterday as the ninth prosecution witness in Najib’s power abuse and money-laundering trial over more than RM2 billion of 1MDB funds, Datuk Seri Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi said he had received such instructions to “protect” Najib when he was 1MDB CEO and claimed that he later became a scapegoat as a result.
Shahrol Azral was CEO of 1MDB from 2009 to 2013, and later was a member of 1MDB’s board of directors from 2013 to 2016.
Shahrol Azral said he had from 2009 to 2016 received an estimated number of more than 100 “talking points” or written instructions via email or Blackberry text messages from Low, who is better known as Jho Low, with the belief that these instructions on 1MDB transactions and deals were given on behalf of Najib. 1MDB had carried out the instructions on deals and huge sums of money had been lost as a result.
Shahrol Azral said that he had, however, in 2015 destroyed the emails after receiving instructions from Low to do so, while the Blackberry messages had self-destructed through a feature of Blackberry on messages kept after some time, and that he had also destroyed digital documents where he had copied and kept information from the Blackberry messages.null
“The Blackberry ones, the Word documents, I copied and paste some, but after receiving instructions, I was quite thorough in basically deleting the points, because the message is clear — ‘PM is under attack, you better protect him,” he said under cross-examination by Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.
Asked by Shafee, Shahrol confirmed he had in 2015 destroyed every single one of these documents due to Low’s instruction to destroy the information, agreeing that this was after 1MDB became a controversial issue and further said that he recalled this to be around the time of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) second inquiry on 1MDB.
Later when asked by lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram on the source of the idea of “protecting” Najib in the 1MDB case, Shahrol Azral said this came from many individuals.
“Everybody, pretty much, not only from Jho, but from the officers in the PMO’s office that I had interacted with, the BN members of the PAC who I had interacted with. Even from the beginning I remember one or two occasions that the civil servants we dealt with in MOF used that phrase — ‘must protect the PM’,” he said.
When asked to name the PMO officials that had put forward the need to protect Najib as the prime minister, Shahrol Azral said the two names that he remembered now are Datuk Seri Ahmad Farid Ridzuan, who was in charge of Najib’s image branding and Najib’s then aide Datuk Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin.
Shahrol Azral also referred to Paul Stadlen, which he said Low had introduced as “boss’s PR guy”.
“My understanding was that Paul was handling all the overseas PR (public relations) or perception management, and I met with him at what was then the Marriott Putrajaya. Paul was also steadfast — when I had a brief discussion with him — about protecting Datuk Seri Najib,” Shahrol Azral said.
Sri Ram: Protecting him from what?
Shahrol Azral: From reputational damage at that time. Remember at that time Wall Street Journal articles were coming in fast and thick.
Asked to name some of the BN members of the bipartisan parliamentary watchdog PAC that had also asked him to protect Najib, Shahrol Azral said: “I met with chairman at that time, YB Hasan Arifin. I can’t remember the names or faces but there were at least one or two other members of PAC present in Datuk Seri Farid’s home and uniformly the objective of that discussion was to again protect the PM.”
Shahrol Azral testified that what he told the PAC during its inquiry on 1MDB affairs was affected as a result, and that he was made out to be a “kambing hitam” or scapegoat.
Sri Ram: Was your evidence before the PAC influenced in any way by these meetings?
Shahrol Azral: Of course. The fact that any mention of Jho Low is removed and the responsibility for all the decisions were put on my shoulders.
Sri Ram: So you will take the blame?
Shahrol Azral: Yes.
Sri Ram: What the Americans call the ‘fall guy’.
Shahrol Azral: Yes, the Malays call it ‘kambing hitam’.
Najib’s trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah is expected to continue next Monday.
BY : IDA LIM – MALAY MAIL