Jho Low was known to get things done through back channels
- Even as a non-Muslim, Low managed to effortlessly get the 10,000 additional Haj quota
- Low had even arranged for the highest award given to a foreign leader by the Saudi government to be awarded to Najib
The now-fugitive Low Taek Jho — who was viewed by senior management in 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) as being a representative of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak — had managed to secure an additional quota of 10,000 slots for Malaysians to go on Haj or Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, the court heard today.
Former 1MDB director Tan Sri Ismee Ismail confirmed this while testifying as the 13th prosecution witness in Najib’s trial over the misappropriation of more than RM2 billion from 1MDB.
Today, Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah asked Ismee about his previous testimony on Low having helped obtain the additional Haj quota of 10,000 Muslims for Malaysia.
Ismee, who was formerly the CEO of Malaysia’s Muslims pilgrimage fund board Lembaga Tabung Haji from 2006 to 2016, said Low — better known as Jho Low — had contacted him in the past to ask about the Haj quota.
“I remember very well because he called me and asked me, what is this quota all about, I explained to him. And I think he did indicate that he is trying to help Malaysia get an additional Haj quota for that particular year, I think it is 2012 or 2013.
“I can’t recall how many weeks after that, he said ‘boss will call you and will tell you the quota has been approved by the Saudi government’,” he said, adding this was probably a few weeks to a month later.
“But of course, 10 minutes after that, my minister called me. Datuk Seri Najib called my minister and informed that the quota was approved,” Ismee added.
Ismee had previously testified that Low had often mentioned Najib’s name by referring to the latter as “boss” or “PM”, and that this is why he viewed Low as having a good relationship with Najib. Ismee had also previously said he viewed Low to be Najib’s adviser for both 1MDB and its predecessor, the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA).
Shafee himself confirmed Low’s role in getting the additional Haj quota.
“Approval of quota was a fact. I can confirm this because that was also the instructions by my client. Certain things he was able to do by back channels, even front channel, our ambassador could not do, he could do,” Shafee said.
When asked by Shafee if Low was a very close friend of the Saudi prince Prince Turki, Ismee said that was what was being told but he did not know of it personally.
Ismee agreed that getting the additional Haj quota of 10,000 persons for Malaysia was “definitely” not an easy thing and that Malaysia’s then-ambassador in Saudi Arabia could not secure this even though he had been working hard, further agreeing with Shafee that Low even as a non-Muslim was able to secure this 10,000 quota.
Quizzed by Shafee, Ismee said he was aware that Najib had been to Saudi Arabia on several occasions to meet the late King Abdullah Abdulaziz Al-Saud who was the Saudi king, but said he was not aware of any personal meetings that Najib may have had with the Saudi ruler.
Ismee was responding to Shafee’s claim that Najib had with several ministers and Malaysia’s then-ambassador to Saudi Arabia allegedly had a “very personal meeting” with the late King Abdullah before several days of meetings between Malaysia and Saudi contingents, with Shafee also claiming that the “suggestion for donation that will come from Saudi Arabia” came about from the purported meeting.
Asked by Shafee, Ismee confirmed he was aware that Najib had received the highest award that Saudi Arabia could give to foreign leaders. Shafee suggested that Najib was the third such recipient of the award after Russian president Vladimir Putin and former US president Barack Obama.
Shafee was referring to the King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit (First Class), which was reportedly conferred by the Saudi king on Najib in January 2010 during the latter’s official visit as Malaysia’s prime minister to Saudi Arabia.
Shafee then asked: “Are you aware the person who arranged for this title to be given, quite surprisingly, is Jho Low. Are you aware of this?”
Ismee then chuckled, saying: “I’m not aware but I’m laughing at that.”
Shafee then said: “It is funny. As a Malay says ‘lucu tapi benar’ (funny but true). So, you are not aware of that.”
Ismee then responded by chuckling again.
Najib’s 1MDB trial before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes tomorrow. – MMO