Monday, May 16, 2022

Ex-1MDB chairman tells court he suspected Najib was involved in irregular transactions

Mohd Bakke Salleh says he suspected the former prime minister was 'in the loop' and involved in the scheme of things with PetroSaudi International.

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Former 1MDB chairman Mohd Bakke Salleh told the Kuala Lumpur High Court today that he did not meet Najib Razak to inform him about his resignation as he suspected that the former prime minister was involved in alleged irregular monetary transactions.

Bakke, 68, 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.

Shafee: Tan Sri, at one point, you said you felt sick. In fact, you wanted to resign from the board. Before that did you see the prime minister and tell him why you’re resigning?

Bakke: I didn’t because I had a feeling and suspicion that the prime minister was in the loop and involved in the scheme of things with PetroSaudi International Ltd (PSI).

The same feelings were shared by board members. One that confirmed our suspicion, which made us feel disgusted, was the way the US$1 billion was remitted.

Thus, I decided I would not want to see him personally. I was not comfortable.

Bakke, the 13th prosecution witness, said his suspicions arose from the way the deal was asked to be rushed through despite the board having misgivings and red flags about it.

Previously, he told the court that Najib had in September 2009 told the 1MDB board of directors to approve the JV that would eventually see the company pump in US$1 billion, and that he wanted it to be signed in four days.

He said the company’s directors were rushed into making the decision due to a phone call from Najib prior to the meeting.

Shafee: You know you are comfortable to see the prime minister (Najib) any time. Not for 1MDB but there is Felda; you saw him every two weeks. You could have seen him and told him about 1MDB.

To this, Bakke replied, “It was not done because we had already firmed up the JV.”

Shafee: The prime minister (Najib) was interested in a government-to-government PSI deal, were there any more suspicions?

Bakke: I understand, but why the need to work in such a hurried fashion? That was the discomfort of myself and the board.

Shafee: I’m just trying to understand why you never went to see the prime minister. What is it that you were suspicious of him? No need suspicion, he was in on the deal. He liked the deal to be done.

Bakke: My suspicion was, why expedite this deal and position to do it in a hurried fashion? When you are pressed to do something that goes against a professional approach, then the board has to ask, why do we have to do this?

Shafee: Aren’t you barking up the wrong tree? Why blame the prime minister when the management was directly under you? Why would he (Najib) micromanage? He could not possibly micromanage.

Bakke then replied: “You have to look at the context of the entire project (the JV). If you look at a point in time, it’s specific. We were not pleased with what happened; my own conclusion was that if I did not attend to the phone call of the prime minister, the board wouldn’t have rushed through the deal. This was why my suspicions came. The manner in which instructions came. If only the prime minister had not spoken to me and gotten Jho Low to give me the phone, we would have looked at this as a proper proposal and done it properly.”

When re-examined by deputy public prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram, Bakke said that Najib’s telephone call had caused the board to “race through the process”.

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 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 before judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan continues tomorrow.

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