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Najib paid nearly RM23 million for international media team services, court told

The 45th prosecution witness in the 1MDB trial says the former prime minister was the only client of the company which prepared his speeches and managed the media for him.

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Former prime minister Najib Razak (centre) arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex today for his RM2.3 billion 1MDB embezzlement trial, June 21, 2023. Photo: Bernama
Former prime minister Najib Razak (centre) arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex today for his RM2.3 billion 1MDB embezzlement trial, June 21, 2023. Photo: Bernama

The High Court was told today that Najib Razak made payments of nearly RM23 million through 39 cheques to Semarak Konsortium Satu Sdn Bhd for providing international media team services and English speechwriters to the former prime minister between 2011 and 2014.

The company's director, Mohd Omar Mustapha, 51, said that the company received payments totalling RM22,981,688 between March 3, 2011, and April 23, 2014, as it provided various services, including preparing English speech texts, for Najib, either domestically or abroad.

"It was also for coordinating all matters with international media based in Malaysia, organising Najib's interviews with international media during his overseas visits, and providing interview drafts or articles by Najib in English magazines or newspapers," he said when reading his witness statement during the trial on corruption and money laundering charges involving RM2.3 billion of 1MDB funds faced by Najib.

According to the 45th prosecution witness, the company's services to Najib began after the issue of services by APCO Worldwide to the Malaysian government arose where the government paid APCO a total of RM76.8 million in 2010.

"This payment was made by the government for international public relations services provided by APCO between July 2009 and June 2010. 

"This payment became an issue raised by the opposition in Parliament, and I was made to understand that the contract between APCO and the government was not renewed after that."

As a result of this issue, I saw a business opportunity there and contacted APCO chief executive officer in Malaysia at that time, Paul Stadlen, to inquire if he was willing to leave APCO and provide services privately, and he agreed," he said.

According to Omar, APCO is one of the world's largest international public relations companies based in the US and has branches in more than 30 countries, including Malaysia.

The witness said he had also met with Najib at the Prime Minister's Office in March 2011 to offer international media team services and English speechwriters to him.

During the meeting, he said he proposed a cost-reimbursement method for the services, where each month he would submit claims to Najib for payment.

"At that time, Najib agreed to the proposed services. I did not ask for any contract to be signed for these services, and he (Najib) also did not ask for any contract from me. This matter was only based on a verbal agreement as it could potentially be politicised.

"I believe that Najib trusted me in this matter because I previously worked as his principal private secretary when he was the Deputy Prime Minister from 2004 to 2005," he said.

During cross-examination by the defence lead counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, the witness said Najib was the only client of the company, and every month he personally went to Najib's office to get those cheques.

"I see him (Najib) monthly and I give him invoices including for operating costs and he will proceed with the payments. I received the payments for three years from him without being questioned by the bank or getting any red flags from the bank," he said.

Meanwhile, when re-examined by deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib, the witness said the services that he provided to Najib were for official purposes and he did not know the source of the money that Najib used to pay for his company.

Najib, 70, is facing 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 of money.

The trial continues before Court of Appeal judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah.