Monday, May 16, 2022

Not rescuing the witness, just stopping an irrelevant question, Sri Ram tells court in Najib trial

The lead prosecutor raises objections to the line of questioning by Najib's lawyer of prosecution witness Ismee Ismail.

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Lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram today told the Kuala Lumpur High Court that he was not rescuing former 1MDB non-executive director Ismee Ismail, merely stopping an irrelevant question from being posed to the 13th prosecution witness.

Sri Ram, the lead prosecutor in Najib Razak’s trial for the misappropriation of RM2.3 billion in funds from 1MDB, said this before judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah after the former prime minister’s lead counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah said the prosecution was trying to “rescue” Ismee.

The issue started when Shafee was questioning Ismee, 58, about an allegedly fake agreement related to the conversion of the sovereign wealth fund’s money into murabahah notes.

According to a 1MDB-PetroSaudi International Limited joint venture, the two companies agreed to convert 40% of 1MDB’s stake at US$1 billion into an Islamic loan to the same joint venture.

The deal saw 1MDB agreeing to sell off the 40% share to the joint venture company, by giving, on paper, the Islamic loan via murabahah notes to the joint venture company at a value of US$1.2 billion.

With the conversion to the murabahah notes, the joint venture company would on paper owe US$1.2 billion to 1MDB, effectively giving 1MDB a paper profit of US$200 million after accounting for the initial US$1 billion.

During proceedings, Sri Ram raised objections to the line of questioning by the senior lawyer which was linked to the backdating of the allegedly wrongful murabahah agreement.

Here, Sequerah interjected, saying it was unfair to try to get the witness to answer when the issue was based on documentation.

However, Shafee said Ismee was capable of answering his questions and did not need to be “rescued” by anyone.

“Nobody needs to rescue this witness because he’s done marvellously well,” he said.

To this, Sri Ram replied: “I’m not rescuing this witness, I’m stopping an irrelevant question.”

Shafee then asked: “Is this question irrelevant?”

The judge then said the question asked was a matter for the submissions stage, noting that Shafee was asking Ismee to make inferences when the witness might or might not know about the matter.

But Shafee insisted that a witness would be able to answer based on the basic facts given. The judge then said: “For what it’s worth, let him answer.”

During today’s proceedings, the witness also testified that the 1MDB-PetroSaudi International Limited joint venture as well as 1MDB’s acquisition of independent power producers Tanjong Energy Holdings Sdn Bhd and Mastika Lagenda Sdn Bhd were in line with the interest of the Malaysian government.

Najib, 68, faces four charges of using his position to obtain bribes totalling RM2.3 billion from 1MDB funds and 21 charges of money laundering involving the same amount.

The trial continues on April 4.

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