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Zeti knew Najib would receive US$100 million from Saudi Arabia, ex-banker tells court

Former AmBank non-executive director Cheah Tek Kuang says he informed her of the matter in a meeting shortly after Najib opened an account at the bank.

3 minute read
Former prime minister Najib Razak.
Former prime minister Najib Razak.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court was yesterday told that former Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz knew that Najib Razak would receive a contribution of US$100 million from Saudi Arabia through his personal account in 2011.

Former AmBank non-executive director Cheah Tek Kuang, 75, said he informed Zeti of the matter in a meeting shortly after Najib opened an account at the bank.

"I made the appointment to meet with Zeti. The purpose of the meeting was to inform her of the opening of Najib's account and the receipt of US$100 million from Saudi Arabia. 

"During the meeting, only the two of us discussed it since the matter was confidential and involved the interests of the prime minister.

"It was important for me to inform Zeti about this because it involved the term 'politically exposed person', meaning it involved national interests. Zeti took note of the matter and requested that it be done in accordance with the existing bank and BNM regulations," he said.

The 39th prosecution witness said this when reading out his witness statement during examination-in-chief by deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib at Najib’s corruption and money laundering trial on RM2.3 billion belonging to 1MDB.
On the meeting with Najib on the opening of an account and the entry of US$100 million at the accused's residence in Bukit Tunku, Cheah said Najib himself told him about the entry of money from Saudi Arabia.

"I met Najib in the living room and introduced myself to him. At that time, only the two of us were in the meeting. I informed him that I had brought a chequebook with an acknowledgment slip, a passbook and a credit card application form. He (Najib) took the document and signed where required.

"Then he informed me that there would be an entry of money from Saudi Arabia. A large amount in US dollars, namely US$100 million. I did not ask for what purpose the money would be received, but he himself stated that the money was a contribution to him from the government of Saudi Arabia for 'Islamic activities'.

"I heard this myself and was informed verbally by Najib. Five minutes later, I left because he (Najib) was quite busy and we didn't talk about anything other than matters related to the account and the transaction that would happen," he said.
The witness added that after meeting with Zeti, he handed over all operational matters to AmBank relationship manager, Joanna Yu, and the operations division led by Ross Foden.

He said that Foden and his team had planned to regulate Najib's account by providing a special code name.

Cheah said they suggested that a code name be given to the account since the account was sensitive, and to avoid an information leak as in the case of the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) with another bank.

"I agreed with the code name which was 'AmPrivate Banking-MR' for Najib's account to avoid the misuse of personal information. I was given a letter to send to Zeti stating the code name 'AmPrivate Banking-MR'.

"I don't know whether he (Najib) was informed about the code name or not, but it involved the internal policy and operations of the bank, as it was the operations’ responsibility to choose the code name," he said.
According to Cheah, after receiving the letter from the operations team, he signed the letter and sent it to Zeti on Feb 9, 2011.

"The purpose of the letter was to inform her of the code name 'AmPrivate Banking-MR' and to make it easier for BNM to monitor and supervise the ringgit operations monitoring system (ROMS). 

"I am not very skilled with regards to ROMS, but as far as I know, it is a system supervised by BNM," he said while adding that his contract at AmBank ended on April 1, 2012.

Najib, 69, faces four charges of using his position to obtain bribes amounting to RM2.3 billion belonging to 1MDB and 21 charges of money laundering involving the same amount.