Najib’s 1MDB Trial: Day One

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A digital agency set up to cater solely to managing Najib’s personal online communications and assets

9am: With the highly anticipated trial set to begin in half an hour, a crowd of people, mostly media personnel, await the arrival of the accused, former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak, at the Kuala Lumpur Courts Complex lobby.

9.19am: Lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram arrives at the court.

9.21am: The courtroom is packed with members of the media and others in the public gallery. However, Najib is still nowhere to be seen.

9.32am: Najib enters the court flanked by his aides and takes a seat in the front row of the public gallery.

Najjua Zulkefli/TMI

9.50am: Najib enters the dock. All lawyers are present and waiting for proceedings to begin.

9.53am: Justice Collin Lawrence Sequerah enters the court.

Sri Ram begins by reading out the names of counsels from both parties who will be involved in the trial.

Lawyers for the prosecution are:

  • Gopal Sri Ram
  • Akram Gharib
  • Mustaffa P Kunyalam
  • Deepa Nair Thevaharan
  • Nadia Mohd Izhar
  • Najwa Bistamam
  • Hazmida Harris Lee
  • Tan Song Yan

Lawyers for the defence are:

  • Muhammad Shafee Abdullah
  • Tania Scivetti
  • Al Firdaus Shahrul
  • Syazwani Zawawi
  • Nor Fazreen Hazrina Rahim
  • Wan Aizuddin Wan Mohammed
  • Rahmat Hazlan
  • Muhammad Farhan Shafee
  • S Mardhiyah
  • T Chelvakumar
  • Syahirah Hanapiah
  • Zahira Eleena Redza

10am: Shafee informs Sequerah about the defence’s appeals made at the Court of Appeal, saying it has allowed them to go back to the high court to hear judicial reviews over two matters.

Shafee says that if the courts’ decisions are found to be in favour of Najib, Sri Ram’s appointment will be considered a nullity, effectively nullifying the entire 1MDB trial.

Shafee tells the judge that should this be the case, it may result in a retrial or Najib being acquitted.

Sri Ram suggests they go on with the case and deal with the matter when the time comes.

He tells the judge that he will hand over a copy of his letter of appointment as prosecutor in the case.

10.04am: Sri Ram begins reading his opening statement.

10.32am: After Sri Ram wraps up his opening statement, deputy public prosecutor Akram Gharib calls the prosecution’s first witness, deputy chief secretary of the cabinet Dr Farizah Ahmad.

She has worked at the cabinet department since 2011. Her job is to manage the appointments of the prime minister and deputy prime minister.

10.40am: They start by identifying Najib’s appointment letter as prime minister dated April 3, 2009.

10.46am: The witness confirms that when Najib was first elected prime minister, he held other portfolios, such as defence and finance minister.

10.47am: The witness says, according to records, Najib became finance minister on April 10, 2009.

On May 6, 2013, Najib was re-elected prime minister, she says.

10.54am: When asked to identify Najib as a point of procedure, Farizah points to the former prime minister, who is seated in the dock.

11am: Shafee begins his cross-examination of the witness.

Shafee asks Farizah if she was aware of Najib’s other positions in statutory bodies.

11.02am: Positions held by Najib, as confirmed by the witness:

1986 – Culture, youth and sports minister

1987 – Youth and sport minister

1990 – Defence minister

1995 – Education minister

1999 – Defence minister

2004 – Deputy prime minister

2008 – Deputy prime minister and finance minister

2009 – Prime minister

2013 – Prime minister and finance minister

Farizah is allowed to step down.

DPP Akram Gharib then asks for the second prosecution witness, Natasha Rahimah Haryati Mohamad, 47, to take the stand.

Azneal Ishak/Malaysiakini

Natasha Rahimah is an accountant in the Finance Division of the Prime Minister’s Department.

11.05am: She tells the court that she was responsible for the payment of staff salaries and had access to all their payslips.

She says she was the head of the claims and retirement department.

11.08am: Natasha says during the course of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) investigation, she surrendered Najib’s salary statement to the body.

11.09am: She reveals that she had to surrender Najib’s January 2006 to May 2018 payslips.

She adds that she also had to surrender statements of his annual gross pay for each year.

She then verifies Najib’s payslips.

11.14am: The court is told that Najib’s gross monthly salary was RM58,605.15.

Natasha says in May 2018, Najib was given a special RM1 million one-off special payment for as retiring prime minister, which is in accordance with the law.

She says that the payment was banked into his official Affin Bank account.

This was also testified to in the recently concluded SRC International trial.

11.17am: Shafee begins his cross-examination.

Natasha says that this salary amount does not include other salaries he received as finance minister.

She says she is not aware of Najib having received any other allowances from any other ministry.

Shafee ends his line of questioning and Natasha is released from the stand.

The court takes a short recess.

11.48am: As proceedings resume from the short break, Sri Ram informs the court that the prosecution has two more witnesses ready to testify today.

He says that there were supposed to be three, but one is down with the H1N1 influenza virus.

The trial then resumes with the third prosecution witness, Farah Nurdiana Azhar, an administrative officer attached to the MP Affairs Division of Parliament.

FMT

11.52am: Farah had also been a witness in the SRC International trial, and her job scope includes handling all payments and allowances to parliamentarians.

She says parliamentarians get a monthly allowance of RM16,000, effective from 2015. Other allowances received monthly amount to RM25,700.

She says when an MP is also a member of the administration, they only get a nett allowance of RM16,000.

Farah says that if a member of the government becomes the prime minister, he or she will receive an allowance of RM1,846 as the leader of the Dewan Rakyat.

She also confirms that she has access to the salary slips of all parliamentarians.

12pm: Farah says between 2011 and 2014, Najib received RM10,355.18, comprising his MP allowance and Dewan Rakyat leader allowance.

In 2015, when there had been a revision to salaries, Najib’s salary was also revised, she says.

From January 2015 to March 2018, the salary for MPs increased to RM16,000. This meant that Najib received a backdated salary of RM19,846.59, on top of his allowance as Dewan Rakyat leader, the witness confirms, adding these were the only allowances Najib received as a member of Parliament.

Farah is then released from the stand.

12.11pm: Sri Ram begins questioning the next witness, Noorhaina Hirawani Mohd Noor, former chief executive officer of Orb Solutions Sdn Bhd.

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She says she was acquainted with one Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin when she was recruited to run a team of contractors to perform digital communications for Najib as prime minister. She adds Amhari was introduced to her as Najib’s special officer.

She says she helped set up Orb Solutions, which functioned as a digital agency catering solely to Najib to manage his personal online communications and assets.

Noorhaina says she also ran his website and handled his social media accounts.

She says the formation of the company was for Najib to have channels with which to engage with the public in a less formal manner.

She says in 2008, the government of the day was cautious of online communications and social media, and that she was not aware of any other government official doing this.

Orb Solutions is named in money laundering charges against Najib for allegedly receiving 1MDB money.

12.18pm: Noorhaina says as Orb Solutions CEO, she ran day-to-day operations and planned communications strategies, which she would then communicate to Najib through the Prime Minister’s Office.

She adds she came into contact with Najib through her job.

She says Amhari, as Orb Solutions’ co-director, was the liaison between the company and the Prime Minister’s Office.

12.20pm: Noorhaina confirms that Orb Solutions Sdn Bhd received a cheque for RM2 million several years ago.

She says that she knows the cheque was banked in through Orb Solutions’ bank statement.

When Sri Ram asks her if she knows who the cheque was from, Noorhaina says she believes that it was from Najib.

12.25pm: She says the sum was to pay for the cost of operations, such as staff salaries, rental and day-to-day running of the office.

Noorhaina says that the company usually received cheques as the form of payment.

She says she worked in the Prime Minister’s Office from August 2013 to October 2014, adding she was the main liaison in the PM’s Office for Orb Solutions as a digital agency.

She adds that she had dealt with Najib to get his approval for events the agency had planned as well as over sensitive and policy-related public statements.

Noorhaina cites the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 as an example in which she would first run by all statements to be run on social media by Najib first.

She says the official press office benefited from this service, which in turn benefited Najib.

12.35pm: Sequerah allows the defence’s request for a brief recess.

Shafee says he needs to seek instruction from Najib before cross-examining Noorhaina.

1.01pm: Court resumes. Shafee begins his cross-examination.

1.03pm: Shafee asks Noorhaina what she specialised in at Orb Solutions. She says she had to deliver content.

1.05pm: She says she was recruited as a private contractor because of personal connections.

Shafee asks if in 2008, had the digital sector not hit the government sector. She says the government sector was slower to embrace the digital sector.

1.07pm: Noorhaina says as a general statement, digital communications couldn’t be ignored by the government because everyone in the country was dependent on digital media.

1.08pm: She says the BN government in 2008 won a reduced majority. There was a belief in the government that it was because the opposition had used the online sphere more effectively than the government.

1.09pm: Noorhaina says the BN government then viewed social media with suspicion and distrust. It believed to harness this potential, it had to be done on a personal capacity and not on a government capacity.

1.10pm: She says when she was brought in, the speed of information in online communication is about the same speed as misinformation.

1.14pm: Noorhaina says she was appointed as Najib’s digital press secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office. This appointment was a secondment from Orb Solutions.

1.17pm: She says she had a misunderstanding with Amhari and left PMO in 2014.

1.27pm: Shafee suggests that nothing Noorhaina did was for Najib’s personal benefit. She agrees.

1.30pm: Shafee asks if Najib had learnt from her expertise in using social media with his newfound ‘BossKu’ monicker.

1.31pm: Noorhaina says certain projects she ran in digital media for the then prime minister may have opened Najib up to the idea and possibilities of social media.

1.32pm: She says she was part owner of Orb Solutions.

Noorhaina is asked if she and Amhari had been charged with any crime. She says no, she has not been charged, but she had been to MACC twice to be interviewed, and one more time to record her statement.

1.34pm: She says every world leader, like Barack Obama and David Cameron, use digital media to gain advantage.

1.35pm: Noorhaina is now being re-examined by Sri Ram. She says that she was paid RM24,000 as the digital press secretary. Witness is released from the stand.

1.37pm: Sri Ram tells the court the prosecution has no more witnesses for today. Judge Sequerah adjourns proceedings until 9.30am tomorrow.


Earlier reports:

Aug 28, Shafee: Prove Najib Knew Arab Donation Letter Faked, Jho Low Is Najib’s Alter Ego

Aug 28, Najib’s 1MDB Trial: Shafee Again Questions Sri Ram’s Appointment

Aug 28, Najib’s 1MDB Trial: Gopal Sri Ram’s Full Opening Statement

Aug 28, Najib’s 1MDB Trial: Prosecution to Show Saudi Donations a Sham

Aug 28, Najib’s 1 MDB Trial: Prosecution to Prove Jho Low Was Najib’s Alter Ego

Aug 28, Najib’s 1MDB Trial Begins