Najib’s 1MDB trial: Najib never contradicted Jho Low’s claims when asked

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Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak never disputed or contradicted Low Taek Jho’s instructions when he was asked about these, a former aide told the Kuala Lumpur High Court today.

Shafwan Zaidon

Datuk Wan Ahmad Shihab Wan Ismail, formerly a special officer of Najib when the latter was prime minister, said this while testifying in court.

Shihab is the 16th prosecution witness in Najib’s trial over the misappropriation of more than RM2 billion of government-owned company 1Malaysia Development Berhad’s (1MDB) funds.

Answering deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib, Shihab said it was “only on occasions” that Low would send him messages over the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) platform, and confirmed that such dealings were not on a daily basis.

Akram: When you checked with Datuk Seri Najib, have you ever received negative answers?

Shihab: No.

Earlier today, Shihab told the court about how he had checked personally with Najib to verify information that came from Low regarding three holiday trips for Najib and his family on yachts in Europe, and had said that Najib had confirmed such information each time when asked.

On all three occasions when he was contacted by Low during the 2009 to 2013 period regarding purported invitations for Najib and his family to holiday in France, Greece and Italy on yachts allegedly owned by princes from three Middle East countries, Shihab confirmed that he did not take Low’s information for granted but had double-checked such claims with Najib who was the prime minister then.

In August 2009, Shihab said that Najib, Rosmah Mansor, their children (Nor Ashman, Nooryana) as well as stepson Riza Aziz and others holidayed at the Kuwaiti prince’s yacht, known as RM Elegance.

“Jho Low told me that the prime minister and family would be going for a vacation on a yacht in southern France.

“He (Low) asked me to make arrangements for the trip,” he said.

The witness said Najib was not asked to pay for the southern France trip. Shihab also joined in the trip as the officer on duty.

“We took the government’s ACJ319 flight from Kuala Lumpur to Nice on Aug 15. Upon arrival, a man known as Sahle took us straight to RM Elegance,” Shihab testified.

He told the court that on the second day of the holiday, Najib informed him that a Saudi prince had invited the family to have high tea at the prince’s yacht.

“I recalled the Saudi prince’s name was Prince Turki. I told Sahle to arrange a boat for the family to travel and meet Prince Turki,” he said.

According to Shihab, Najib’s family subsequently met Prince Turki and PetroSaudi International (PSI) director Tarek Obaid on the prince’s yacht.

“I don’t know the purpose of this meeting. I was outside the yacht and I only came into the (yacht’s) hall when the prime minister asked me to take some photos,” he said.

Shihab said after some time, Tarek asked him to email the photos taken on the yacht.

Shihab also said Najib and his family were invited to another holiday in Greece and Italy on a yacht belonging to a Saudi prince in July 2010.

During the trip, he said Rosmah’s acquaintance, known as Natasha, contacted him because she and several others wanted to meet Rosmah.

“I asked Natasha to contact the yacht’s captain on when the yacht would be docking in Rome,” Shihab added.

Natasha, whose real name is Shabnam Naraindas Daswani, is a Singaporean fashion designer. She is wanted by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for 1MDB-related investigations.

Shihab said Najib’s family also went on another trip on a yacht in France in July 2013.

The trip was an invitation from Abu Dhabi prince, Sheikh Mansour, he added.

“When we arrived in London on July 4, 2013, a person in charge of the trip, Robert Shepherd, received us at the airport and took us to the yacht called Topaz.

“On the second day, I saw US actor Jamie Foxx on board the Topaz. I was told that he was one of Sheikh Mansour’s guests,” he said.

Others who subsequently joined Najib and the family on Topaz were Jho Low, Riza and Hollywood producer Joey McFarland.

Shihab told the court that Shepard informed him that no payments were charged to Najib and the family for the trip on Topaz.

Under cross-examination by Najib’s lawyer Shafee Abdullah on the name of Prince Turki’s yacht, Shihab said the name was Alfa Nero.

Shafee: Who is Tarek?

Shihab: I was told he was linked to the Saudi royal court.

The lawyer then asked whether the August 2009 trip was mooted “out of the blue” by Jho Low.

“He (Jho Low) sent me a message about this. That is why I needed to verify with the PM because I didn’t see anything in writing,” Shihab said.

Shihab said he first met Jho Low in Washington between 2007 and 2008 during Najib’s visit to the US.

“Nor Ashman (who was with me) told me that Jho Low is the brother of Taek Szen, a family friend (of Najib).

Shihab said Jho Low had previously extended him copies of emails related to 1MDB matters.

Among the emails were issues related to the Sungai Besi airport land issue and 1MDB’s bid to evict 22 families staying along Jalan Barat Imbi.

“(Former Batu MP) Tian Chua had questioned the development of the Sungai Besi airport and Datuk Seri (Najib) wanted 1MDB to give a response to Tian Chua.

“The land eviction case received wide coverage in the Chinese media and Jho Low asked (former 1MDB CEO) Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi to seek my views on the political perspective,” Shihab said.

Shihab said Jho Low had easy access to Middle Eastern royal family members.

“Each time when I had to deal with the royals, he (Jho Low) would put me through to their highest level.

“He would inform me ahead of time when they would be in touch with the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office),” he added.

Shihab agreed with Shafee’s suggestion that other individuals such as former 1MDB chairman Tan Sri Mohd Bakke Salleh could easily communicate with Najib when he was the prime minister.

“One of the things I was annoyed about as officers of the prime minister was that the prime minister at that time was too accessible, almost anyone could reach him. Sometimes as officers, it was annoying we were being second-guessed by other people who had access to the PM,” he said, referring to Najib as he had never served any other prime ministers.

Earlier, Bakke said he had resigned as chairman of 1MDB in 2009 as a sign of protest, following his suspicions that “something wrong” was going on at the Finance Ministry-owned company.

Bakke also suspected that Najib was involved in 1MDB affairs and that either Najib or Jho Low were the “higher level” who had instructed for US$700 million out of US$1 billion of 1MDB funds to be transferred out without the 1MDB board’s knowledge or agreement.

Bakke said he had personally prepared his official letter dated October 19, 2009 to inform Najib of his resignation as 1MDB chairman, and that no one had instructed him to resign.

“My resignation was due to the fact that the management of 1MDB refused to follow the instructions of the board of directors. As a chairman, I resigned as a sign of protest and I did not want to be involved in any discussions and decisions regarding 1MDB,” he told the High Court today.

Before sending in his resignation letter, Bakke said he had first sent a text message to Najib to inform him of the 1MDB management’s failure to follow the 1MDB board’s instructions on several matters relating to a joint venture deal involving US$1 billion of 1MDB funds, but that Najib did not reply.

“I did not receive any response from Datuk Seri Najib. It did not cross my mind to report to any relevant authorities on the financial misconduct of the management of 1MDB because I assumed that I had already done so through my SMS sent to Datuk Seri Najib,” he said.

“I hoped Datuk Seri Najib will take necessary actions against the management of 1MDB if he found any misconduct on their part.

Reuters

“Since my concerns did not get Datuk Seri Najib’s attention as he did not reply my SMS, I had a feeling that he was involved and something wrong was happening without my knowledge. This was one of my main reasons I decided to resign as Chairman and a member of 1MBD’s board of directors,” he added.

Later when asked by lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, Bakke confirmed that this was not the first time he had sent an SMS to Najib and that the latter would usually respond to the text messages, agreeing that he found it unusual when Najib did not respond on this occasion.

The trial before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes tomorrow morning.