Ex-CFO says flew to Middle East to meet Najib over The Edge’s ‘attacks’ on 1MDB, former PM was mulling whether to act

KUALA LUMPUR : A former 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) chief financial officer related in the High Court today (Nov 18) the reason he went all the way to the Middle East on Jho Low’s orders at the height of the scandal.

Azmi Tahir, who was CFO of 1MDB from June 2012 to December 2017, told the High Court that it was to present his “research” of the alleged “attacks” and negative news reports about 1MDB to then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

“The reason for Jho Low asking me to go was because he said there was a discussion with Datuk Seri Najib about The Edge, the newspaper. At that point in time, the company was being attacked by The Edge, there was a series of what we considered negative articles, questioning our acquisition of the power plants, doing IPO and things like that,” the prosecution’s 12th witness testified in Najib’s power abuse and money laundering trial over more than RM2 billion of funds misappropriated from 1MDB.

Azmi was referring to local business newspaper The Edge.

“There was also reference to Datuk Seri Najib and 1MDB, so there was that link there, creating these issues that there was something wrong with 1MDB and Datuk Seri Najib also responsible for playing a role. So I was told by Jho Low that there will be some discussion with Datuk Seri Najib,” Azmi said.

He was asked by lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram if he had gone to the Middle East while he was still working in 1MDB to meet with Najib.

However, Azmi said he could not recall if it was Abu Dhabi or Dubai. He also did not tell the court which year it was.

He confirmed that he was in Malaysia when Low contacted him to go and meet Najib in the Middle East.

Azmi said he did not know where Low was at that time. He said Low usually communicated either through phone calls or the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).

Azmi said that Low’s initial communication was to do “research”, but that it later became an instruction to fly off to meet Najib abroad.

“Initially he asked me to do some research, so what I did was photocopy all the articles by The Edge and also I think some of the other newspapers that picked up what The Edge reported. Initially he said it was just to compile, do research, but he told me ‘you have to go’,” he said.

Datuk Seri Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on October 26, 2021. ― Picture by Miera Zulyana
Datuk Seri Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on October 26, 2021. ― Picture by Miera Zulyana

After having been told by Low about the date and the hotel to go to, Azmi said he had upon arrival at the hotel lobby bumped into Datuk Azlin Alias — the late former principal private secretary of Najib who had worked in the Prime Minister’s Department.

“He [Azlin] wasn’t aware. He said ‘Oh, what are you doing here?’ I said, ‘Oh, I want to see boss’,” Azmi said.

Azmi said he then communicated with Low and asked what he should do next after arriving at the hotel lobby.

He added that Low told  him to go up to a hotel suite.

Azmi said he saw one or two officers outside the hotel room and that they had quizzed him on who he was and why he was there, adding that he had then said he was from 1MDB and was there to meet Najib.

“I think I waited a few minutes, so I wasn’t sure what to do,” he said, adding that he then communicated to Low: “I’m in front of the room, but they won’t let me in, what do I do?”

“Immediately after that, the door opened, so he must have spoken to someone inside there, that was my assumption,” Azmi said.

Azmi said he waited for a while since Najib was not at the hotel suite yet.

When Najib returned to the room, Azmi said he sat down with several other individuals, including one Datuk Wan Ahmad Shihab Wan Ismail who was an officer in the Prime Minister’s Office.

“So we had a short discussion, so I just presented what I found, it wasn’t very long, my interaction,” he said.

He related that he was then told he could leave the room.

Sri Ram asked Azmi to describe Najib’s attitude during this meeting over The Edge’s news reports on 1MDB.

“Well, he was trying to come to a decision on whether to take some action against The Edge because of these attacks. I was there talking about 1MDB, I’m not sure whether there are any other considerations that Datuk Seri Najib was looking at,” Azmi replied.

Asked if Najib had shown any interest in what he had to say, Azmi replied: “Yes, of course, usually Datuk Seri Najib — when someone speaks — he will show some interest, but as I said, my interaction wasn’t very long, so I’m not sure what decision, what happened after that.”

Azmi confirmed that he was in Malaysia when Low (pic) contacted him to go and meet Najib in the Middle East. — Picture via Facebook
Azmi confirmed that he was in Malaysia when Low (pic) contacted him to go and meet Najib in the Middle East. — Picture via Facebook

A country’s PM meets with 1MDB’s auditors

Sri Ram also asked if Najib showed any interest in the affairs of 1MDB during Azmi’s tenure in the company.

Azmi then referred to Najib meeting up with 1MDB’s audit firm KPMG on December 15, 2013 to provide explanations over 1MDB’s purported overseas “investment” of US$2.3 billion, with KPMG at that time refusing to sign off on its audit for 1MDB’s financial statements for the year 2013 ending in March 2013 due to insufficient information given on the investment.

In replying Sri Ram, Azmi said: “Yes, as I said, in my statement, meeting with auditors. To me, that was quite significant for a prime minister of a country to meet with auditors. I was very grateful because we had a problem to solve and he agreed to meet. To me, that was an instance apart from signing approvals.”

Earlier when explaining Najib’s role in 1MDB, Azmi said: “To me, Datuk Seri Najib was clearly very interested in the company and he had an official position as the chairman of board of advisers.”

Azmi also cited 1MDB’s Memorandum & Articles of Association (M&A) or company constitution’s Article 117 which relates to the prime minister’s powers, with Azmi noting that there was always references to “PM” and “Datuk Seri Najib” when he was dealing with 1MDB’s senior management and 1MDB board.

“So clearly there was oversight or authority of some sort by Datuk Seri Najib over the company, and clearly also he signed the approvals as necessary as representative of MoF and things like that, so there was a clear role in that sense,” he said.

Article 117 of the M&A states that the prior written approval of the prime minister was required for any amendments to the M&A, for the appointment and removal of the company’s directors and senior management team.

According to Article 117 M&A, the prime minister’s prior written approval was also required for any financial commitments by 1MDB, including investments or other matters likely to affect government guarantees, national interests, national security or government policies, with the government to make the “final and conclusive” decision on what amounts to national interests, national security and national policies.

Azmi today also described Low as being the “representative or the close confidant of Datuk Seri Najib with regards to helping manage 1MDB” and as carrying the “mandate, messages, instructions” from Najib.

Asked by Sri Ram, Azmi confirmed he had testified of several transactions of funds leaving 1MDB, but said he had not received a single cent of such funds and also did not receive any money from Low.


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