1MDB trial: Shafee, ex-CFO in heated argument over Jho Low’s opulent lifestyle

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The 1MDB’s former chief financial officer and Najib Abdul Razak’s lead lawyer got into a heated argument over businessperson Low Taek Jho’s opulent lifestyle.

Azmi Tahir, the 12th prosecution witness, and Muhammad Shafee Abdullah were locked in the war of words during the former prime minister’s RM2.28 billion 1MDB corruption trial at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur today.

It all started when the lawyer was cross-examining on whether Azmi was suspicious about 1MDB-linked monies being allegedly spent by Low – who is also known as Jho Low.

Shafee claimed that Low’s wild parties were splashing money like his grandfather’s funds, and made reference to various related news reports.

Among the news reports was one about a 2010 champagne party at St Tropez, where Low was dancing with wealthy United States-based celebrity Paris Hilton.

The lawyer claimed that as then CFO between 2012 and 2017, Azmi should have been concerned about the possibility of 1MDB funds being used at these opulent parties, in light of Low being regarded by the witness as representing Najib.

Azmi then countered that his then responsibility was with 1MDB’s financial transactions rather than Low’s personal life.

“You are asking about his social activity, parties, whether someone in the (Malaysian) government (as the owner of 1MDB through the Minister of Finance Incorporated) would condone it, (but) that is his (Low) personal life.

“I do not know what sort of money he (Low) has,” Azmi replied.

Then Shafee – who contended that Najib had no knowledge of wrongdoing at 1MDB when the accused was then finance minister – countered that the witness should have been concerned as Low’s spending was “close to insanity” and should have made everyone in 1MDB pay attention.

The lawyer then played in court a video clip of one of these hard parties which showed Hilton.

Shafee: I put it to you that it should have been a concern of 1MDB (management, which included Azmi) as the person (Low) running 1MDB has this lifestyle?

Azmi: It is his personal life. We have politicians here whose personal life is questionable.

Shafee then countered that Azmi should have been concerned about Low’s suspicious hard partying as 1MDB’s financial position was in a questionable state at the time.

“It is his private life. We (1MDB management) were concerned with the company, not with his (Low) wealth,” Azmi stressed, adding that Low’s lavish lifestyle was not necessarily then linked to 1MDB.

However, the witness conceded that in hindsight, Low’s opulent lifestyle did seem suspicious.

Shafee then insinuated that Azmi has been negligent if the latter had not been keeping up with then news reports about Low’s lifestyle, contending further that the witness was in cahoots with the businessperson in embezzling funds out of 1MDB.

Shafee: The reason neither you, Shahrol or Hazem (in reference to 1MDB’s then CEOs Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi and Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman) never raised (the matter with 1MDB’s board) is because you were quietly concerned as you were involved as well in receiving bribes from Jho Low.

Azmi: I disagree.

Shahrol and Hazem had testified for the prosecution during the graft trial against Najib.

The atmosphere in the courtroom further heated up when Shafee contended that Azmi signed off, on the alleged fraudulent transfer of US$790 million from 1MDB’s energy subsidiary to Aabar Investments PJS Limited, without the 1MDB board’s approval.

However, Azmi countered that the board was aware of the transfer and that none of them knew that Aabar Investments PJS Limited was actually a fake company at the time.

It was previously reported that British Virgin Islands-based Aabar Investments PJS Limited was a fake subsidiary created to imply a link to the International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC). The actual subsidiary of IPIC is Aabar Investments PJS.

The alleged embezzlements involved funds linked to a joint venture between Malaysia’s 1MDB and Abu Dhabi’s IPIC.

Shafee: You seemed combative (in answers during the cross-examination).

Azmi: The way you put the questions do not seem fair to me.

Proceedings before trial judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah is set to resume this afternoon.

Najib is on trial for four counts of abuse of power and 21 counts of money laundering involving RM2.28 billion of 1MDB’s funds.

1MDB is fully owned by the Minister of Finance Incorporated (MOF Inc).

Besides being a former prime minister, Najib also used to be finance minister and chairperson of 1MDB’s board of advisers.

The prosecution contended that Low, on the behest of Najib, had acted with several other 1MDB personnel to misappropriate billions of ringgit of funds from the sovereign wealth fund and, via a circuitous and complex financial route, to transfer part of the funds to Najib’s account.

However, the defence team contended that Najib had no knowledge about wrongdoing at 1MDB and that the whole affair was masterminded completely by Low and several other members of the sovereign wealth fund.