1MDB Audit Trial: Day Four

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Audit officer Salwani makes two explosive admissions in court.

  • Only one out of 60 copies of the original 1MDB audit report survived and made it to the High Court because it was secretly kept by Salwani despite an order from her superior to destroy all copies
  • The audio recording of a meeting which discussed the 1MDB audit report in Feb 2016 was made by her – she had slipped a recording device into the pencil box of her then superior Saadatul Nafisah without her knowing as she (Salwani) was not allowed to be in the room

9.53am: Former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy enters the High Court and takes a seat at the front row of the public gallery to await proceedings to begin.

Firdaus Latif

10.06am: Accused Najib Abdul Razak and Arul enter the dock as proceedings begin.

Firdaus Latif

10.10am: The hearing today starts with the prosecution tendering a volume of the original 1MDB audit report printed by the National Audit Department (NAD) on Feb 21, 2016.

This is the only surviving copy of the original report in NAD’s possession which was supposed to have been destroyed and replaced by an amended version later.

The evidence was admitted in the court through the testimony of NAD officer Nor Salwani Muhammad this morning, who confirmed that it was one of 60 copies printed by NAD then.

For the record, the witness yesterday testified that NAD only made 60 copies of the report, six of which were distributed to Najib, who was the then prime minister, his chief private secretary Shukry Salleh, Ali Hamsa (then chief secretary to the government), Arul Kanda (then 1MDB CEO), Ambrin Buang (then auditor-general), and Dzulkifli Ahmad (then an officer of Attorney-General’s Chambers) on Feb 22, 2016.

10.15am: The court hears from Salwani that she had held onto one of the 60 original copies of the original 1MDB audit report against the order by her superior to destroy all of them.

She testifies that the copy, which has the watermark label ‘09’ and is tendered in court today, was the one that went into the hands of then newly-minted auditor-general Madinah Mohamad in 2017.

 

The copy was also the one that was later handed to the MACC to assist the investigation into the alleged tampering of the report, which is the subject of this trial.

“The 1MDB Audit Report watermarked ’09’ was supposed to be destroyed to prevent a leak of information as what had been reported by the media then, and I was ordered by Tan Sri Ambrin (Buang) to follow the order of the CGSO (Chief Government Security Office) as per the Official Secrets Act.

“I kept the report to be given to the new auditor-general. With pure intention, I had surrendered the report watermarked ’09’ to allow the new auditor-general to get the whole picture about the audit findings,” says Salwani.

According to her, the copy was also kept to serve as a reference in case it is needed, as the five other copies that were distributed on Feb 22, 2016, to Najib Abdul and four others were never returned to NAD to be destroyed.

Only the modified copy of the audit report was submitted to the Public Accounts Committee.

10.23am: The High Court hears from Salwani that Ambrin looked sad when he received the order to remove three issues from the 1MDB final audit report on Feb 24, 2016.

Salwani testifies that Ambrin was troubled with the order given to remove the issues from the report.

“What I mean by looking troubled was that he (Ambrin) looked sad and felt challenged with what happened.

“This happened when he was issuing the order (to me) and after the meeting on Feb 24, 2016,” Salwani says.

The court hears that in the meeting on Feb 24, 2016, attended by several people including Ambrin, Ali and Arul, a decision was reached to remove several issues from the 1MDB final audit report, among them being the existence of two conflicting financial statements for 2014.

10.50am: The ringing of Najib’s phone temporarily brings proceedings to a halt.

Najib is then seen quickly silencing the phone and lead DPP Gopal Sri Ram says the phone should be seized.

Salwani resumes reading from her witness statement following the interruption.

10.58am: Salwani finishes reading her witness statement.

11.15am: Salwani makes an explosive admission in court, testifying that the audio recording of a meeting which discussed the 1MDB audit report in Feb 2016 was made by her.

She tells the court that she had slipped a recording device into the pencil box of her then superior Saadatul Nafisah as she (Salwani) was not allowed to be in the room.

This was done without Saadatul’s knowledge, Salwani says, adding that she did so as she needed to take the minutes of the meeting because it involved discussions about the 1MDB audit report that was prepared by her team.

Salwani was the coordinator for NAD’s special team that was tasked to conduct an audit on 1MDB in 2015. She served under Saadatul who was the team’s chief.

Salwani explains how she had been directed to be present at Ali’s office by Ambrin, before she was unceremoniously asked to leave the meeting.

“I was there by about 8.30am but when the meeting was just about to start, Tan Sri Ali’s staff suddenly told all the lower-ranking officers to leave the room.

Azneal Ishak/Malaysiakini

“They were very insistent, and everything became very chaotic. I was supposed to take down the minutes of the meeting for the Audit Department, but they were asking me to leave the room,” she says.

However, Salwani says just before she was shooed out, she managed to slip a voice recorder into her boss, Saadatul’s pencil case which was left partially open on the desk.

She says Saadatul did not know about it and neither did anyone else in the meeting room.

This was the audio recording of the Feb 24, 2016 meeting which was chaired by Ali and attended by Saadatul, Ambrin, Shukry, Arul and Dzulkifli, among others.

It was this recording of about 2 hours and 45 minutes duration that was played to the court yesterday.

11.17am: Salwani says that after the meeting, she saw Ambrin and Saadatul emerged from the meeting, and she followed Ambrin to the washroom.

Sri Ram: Did you notice what Ambrin looked like? His demeanour?

Salwani: He looked upset with what transpired. Ambrin looked very sad, he was mumbling something as I followed him.

Sri Ram: He looked upset?

Salwani: I followed him to the washroom as he went to wash his face.

Sri Ram: Why did you do that?

Salwani: I was afraid he might fall down, he looked fragile at the time. He looked upset.

Sri Ram: Did he say anything?

Salwani: He was mumbling: “What is the purpose of the audit?”

11.25am: The members of a special team that audited 1MDB were shocked when they listened to an audio recording purportedly of a meeting that discussed their report on Feb 24, 2016, the court hears from Salwani.

According to Salwani, she had played the recording to her team as soon as she returned to their office after accompanying Ambrin and Saadatul to attend the meeting.

They then listened to details of the purported discussion, which include alleged requests to Ambrin for certain parts of the audit report on 1MDB to be omitted.

DPP Gopal Sri Ram: When you retrieved the recording device from the pencil case, what did you do with it?

Salwani: I turned off the tape, and I brought it back to my office

Sri Ram: What happened there? Slowly explain to your lordship what happened.

Salwani: After I switched off the recording device, I returned to the office using a department vehicle and met with the other team members in a meeting room. We then listened to the recording to find out what transpired in the meeting.

Sri Ram: After you listened to the recording, what did you do?

Salwani: After listening to the recording, we were so shocked by what transpired. I then copied the audio onto a hard disc that belonged to the team. It was an official hard disc.

Sri Ram: Why were you shocked?

Salwani: (We were shocked) upon hearing the request to omit some things from the report, including on the existence of two (1MDB) financial statements.

Questioned by Sri Ram as to who owned the voice recorder, Salwani replies that it was NAD property.

Najib’s lead defence counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah corners Salwani on the ethics of recording someone without the person’s knowledge.

He questions her at length on this issue but Salwani maintains that she was forced to do it as she needed to jot down the minutes of the meeting.

“I was asked to be present at the meeting to record the minutes but then I was chased away from the room.

“I had to leave my voice recorder in the room to know what was discussed,” she says.

Shafee: Who asked you to leave the room?

Salwani: The secretariat from Tan Sri Ali Hamsa’s office.

Shafee: Did you inform anyone that you needed to record the minutes of the meeting?

Salwani: No…the situation was very chaotic then…they were just shooing the lesser officers out of the room. I did not have a chance to inform anyone.

Shafee: But you still managed to slip the voice recorder into the pencil case.

Salwani: Yes…it was partially open and left on the desk…I just slipped it in without anyone noticing

Shafee: Isn’t it unethical…You could have always informed the chief secretary…it is the chief secretary to the government we are talking about here. You could have said that you were going to record the proceedings.

Salwani: It was very chaotic then…everything was being rushed. I was just a lowly officer, and I did not have the opportunity to inform anyone.

Shafee: You could have informed your own superior.

Salwani: No…I was being chased out.

Shafee: Are you a kalut (panicky) kind of person?

Salwani: It was very chaotic then…I was being chased out.

Shafee: It was only ethical for you to have obtained an approval first.

Salwani: My boss, Ambrin and Saadatul know that all meetings are recorded.

Shafee: But in this case the voice recorder was put in a pencil box…it was hidden.

Salwani: I don’t agree.

Salwani says she did not have the chance to inform anyone, including Ambrin or Saadatul, of her leaving the recorder in the meeting room due to the hasty situation, insisting that she did not mean to hide the recorder.

“I did not intend to hide, I put it in and wanted to tell her. But when asked repeatedly to leave, I did not manage to tell her that I left the recorder in her pencil box,” she says, disagreeing with Shafee that she had intended to secretly record the meeting.

Salwani says she had given the voice recorder to an NAD division that keeps government assets after having transferred the February 24, 2016 recording to an external hard drive that was officially under the 1MDB audit team’s use.

She says she had within the period of February to April 2016 further transferred the recording to another NAD external hard drive and a pendrive due to security considerations owing to concerns then about “leakage” of government information.

She confirms that the voice recorder no longer carries the recording, and that she had also deleted the recording from the first hard drive after transferring it to the subsequent hard drive and the pendrive.

“At that time, I was informed that the issue of information leakage happened frequently in the public sector and has to be given attention by government agencies, including the NAD,” she says.

She says that the second hard drive was damaged after a fall and is uncertain if it had already been repaired as it was later passed to Madinah and now placed in the MACC’s custody.

As for the pendrive, Salwani says she had placed it in an envelope that was stapled in a locked metal cabinet at her office that had controlled access.

The audio clip played in court yesterday was the same pendrive after it was removed from a sealed envelope.

The February 24, 2016 meeting eventually resulted in four main changes to the 1MDB audit report before it was finalised and presented to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Ali had earlier this week testified that no minutes were taken during the February 24, 2016 meeting, which he said had been called due to Najib’s instructions to remove content that he was dissatisfied with.

12.53pm: Salwani, who is currently the director of NAD’s governance sector, is temporarily dismissed from the witness stand.

1.14pm: Proceedings resume, with Ambrin giving testimony in examination-in-chief.

1.55pm: The court hears from Ambrin that an audit on 1MDB and its group of companies in 2015 could have been completed in five months.

However, according to him, the auditing exercise carried out by a team of 12 officers from NAD since March 2015 took up about a year due to difficulties to access information needed for the audit.

“NAD faced limitations with some of the original documents either delayed or never surrendered by 1MDB at all.

“These documents are significant for the auditing to verify the true financial position and company operations as well as related transactions,” he tells the court.

According to his testimony, among the documents that never arrived from 1MDB includes its bank statements from overseas financial institutions.

He says there was also no access to the company’s computers or server for the NAD audit team to cross-check information during the auditing process.

2.05pm: The High Court allows proceedings to adjourn for the day, with the trial set to resume at 9.30am next Wednesday.

In this trial, Najib is accused of having misused his positions as prime minister and finance minister to order for the 1MDB audit report changes to avoid civil or criminal action, while Arul Kanda is accused of having helped Najib commit the alleged offence.


Earlier reports:

Nov 21, 1MDB Audit Trial: Day Three

Nov 20, 1MDB Audit Trial: Day Two

Nov 19, 1MDB Audit Trial: Day One