Monday, May 16, 2022

Ex-1MDB chairman says Najib told him to focus on PSI deal, not past transactions

Mohd Bakke Salleh says this was despite his concerns over several issues including the alleged embezzlement of US$700 million.

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Former 1MDB chairman Mohd Bakke Salleh told the Kuala Lumpur High Court today that Najib Razak had told him on the phone to not spend too much time looking at past transactions and to just focus on a proposed joint venture (JV) between the sovereign wealth fund and PetroSaudi International Ltd (PSI).

Bakke, 68, said the message was conveyed to him by Najib himself after the former prime minister was done speaking with fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho or Jho Low by phone during a board meeting.

The 13th prosecution witness said this when cross-examined by Najib’s lead counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah in the trial of Najib and former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy for allegedly tampering with the final 1MDB audit report.

The witness was referring to a 1MDB board meeting which he and Jho Low had attended on Sept 26, 2009, where Jho Low was alleged to have received a telephone call from Najib.

Bakke said despite his concerns over several issues linked to 1MDB such as the alleged embezzlement of US$700 million, Najib had told him not to spend too much time on past transactions.

“Najib told me not to spend too much time looking at past transactions and to just look at the proposed JV as the matter had been under discussion for some time, and we needed to make a decision as soon as possible,” he said.

Bakke said he then felt comforted enough to relay this to the other members of the board, to proceed with the JV.

To another question, he agreed that Jho Low had total control of 1MDB’s management as it took instructions from him although Jho Low had no official position in the company.

On how he formed the impression that Jho Low was representing Najib, Bakke said it was not just an impression as he had met Jho Low at Najib’s office when he was defence minister, and when he was deputy prime minister, at his Putrajaya office.

At the end of today’s proceedings, judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan, who was presiding over the trial, said he felt like he was “sitting in justice Collin’s court” due to the style of Shafee’s cross-examination which touched on issues linked more to the 1MDB bribery case than the 1MDB audit report case.

Zaini was referring to High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah, who is presiding over Najib’s RM2.3 billion 1MDB corruption trial.

To this, Shafee said the phone call issue was raised by lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram during the last proceeding and that the defence was entitled to query the witness on the matter.

Najib, 68, is charged with using his position to order amendments to the final 1MDB audit report before it was presented to the Public Accounts Committee to prevent any action from being taken against him.

Arul Kanda, 45, is charged with abetting Najib in making the amendments to the report, to protect Najib from being subjected to action.

The offences were allegedly committed at the Prime Minister’s Department Complex, Federal Government Administrative Centre, Putrajaya between Feb 22 and 26, 2016.

Both Najib and Arul Kanda were charged under Section 23(1) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009, which provides for a jail term of up to 20 years and a fine of not less than five times the amount of gratification or RM10,000, whichever is higher, upon conviction.

The trial continues on April 12.

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