Najib’s Alleged Denials, Ignorance

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Najib did not deny knowing Jho Low, but denied admitting Low cheated him and being aware of wrongdoings in 1MDB.

  • The Edge boss Tong Kooi Ong slams Najib for feigning ignorance over 1MDB
  • In a one-to-one evening meeting in Najib’s house in 2015, Najib told Tong The Edge was wrong and no theft had occurred at 1MDB
  • Tong shared what he believed was proof that it was all a scam, with Jho Low at the centre of it
  • He explained how the accounts were made up to report a profit, why he believed the cash was all gone
  • When Tong told Najib that Low must be held accountable and be prosecuted, Najib got upset and immediately showed Tong the door
  • Najib’s media adviser Paul Stadlen met Tong several times to persuade, and eventually, threaten him
  • Stadlen conveyed a clear message from his boss – any attack on Low was an attack on Najib
  • The Edge’s allegation that Low stole US$1.83 billion supported by a money trail spooked Najib into suspending the publication to shut it up

“I knew him professionally, and we used him for deals with Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) to attract investments into Malaysia,” Datuk Seri Najib Razak was quoted as saying by Harian Metro.

He also pointed out that Jho Low had paid for two jumbo jets which ferried Malaysian students from Egypt back to Malaysia during the Arab Spring in 2011.

Najib, however, denied reports of him admitting that Low cheated him, alleging that his statement had been twisted by ‘a certain news portal’ to confuse the public

“What I’ve said was if it (the lie) is proven to be true, then we have (indeed) been cheated by him (Jho Low),” he said.

Najib, in an interview with Sinar Harian last week, conceded that based on information available today, Low had cheated Malaysia of billions of dollars through transactions done by 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

He, however, claimed he was not aware that anything was wrong because he was not told about it. He put the blame solely on Goldman Sachs and 1MDB’s lawyers and auditors for allowing wrongdoings to take place.

“They should have informed me if something was not right,” Najib said. “They clearly failed in carrying out their responsibilities.”

Proof shown that it was all a scam, with Jho Low at the centre of it

In his editorial in The Edge today, chairman of The Edge Media Group Datuk Tong Kooi Ong wrote that Najib obviously still refuses to take any responsibility for 1MDB and is blaming everyone else and pleading ignorance. A few months ago, he put the blame on 1MDB’s board of directors.

In the opinion piece titled You Didn’t Know Jho Low Cheated Us?, Tong wrote:

Over the past four years since The Edge, which I own, had its run-in with Najib’s government over our exposés of wrongdoings at 1MDB, I have refrained from making any public comment on what happened back in 2014/15.

I have also not said anything in public about how the matter was handled by Najib, whom I have known for more than 25 years. I felt it was best left to investigators to do their work.

But I think it is now time that some things be told because Najib’s act of innocence over 1MDB and Jho Low should not be tolerated anymore.

1MDB was started by Najib in 2009 and the first deal it did was a US$1.0 billion joint venture with Petro Saudi International (PSI), which eventually rose to US$1.8 billion in 2011.

Not much information was revealed about the progress of that joint venture between 2009 to 2013, by which time 1MDB had accumulated debts of over RM38 billion, including raising three bonds totalling US$6.5 billion with the help of Goldman Sachs to buy two power plants and to develop the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX).

Starting from December 2013, The Edge began to scrutinise all these transactions. We questioned why 1MDB had overpaid for the power plants, the land in Penang and the huge fees of over US$600 million to Goldman Sachs. The Edge also asked why 1MDB had three auditors in five years and cast doubt on how it can pay its mountain of debts given that it has not much cash flow.

The Edge’s reporting from December 2013 to December 2014 led to concerted personal attacks on me. I was accused by certain unnamed bloggers of getting The Edge to publish fake negative news as I had taken short positions in the ringgit.

We traced one source of these attacks to a person using the blogging handle Ahrily 90. We discovered that the same Ahrily90 had also made vicious attacks against Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Nazir Razak who, by then, had also openly criticised what was happening at 1MDB.

Even more significant was that Ahrily90 was also behind two social media sites that promoted Jho Low as a successful and charitable businessman!

This confirmed our suspicion that not all was well at 1MDB, as the then government had insisted, and that Jho Low certainly had a lot of interest to make sure 1MDB did not get any negative reporting.

But how could we support our suspicion with facts and proof?

The chance came when we were told that Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle Brown knew of a whistleblower who had evidence of wrongdoing to share.

On Feb 10, 2015, The Edge publisher Ho Kay Tat and I met Clare in Singapore and we were introduced to Andre Xavier Justo, who had worked at PSI as a senior director. The documents and emails that we received from Justo were the proof we needed.

It took us a few weeks to go through the documents to piece together how much of the US$1.8 billion that 1MDB invested in the JV with PSI were syphoned out by Jho Low and PSI founders Tarek Obaid, Patrick Mahony and Prince Turki.

On March 6, 2015, at 10.45pm, I met Najib at his Jalan Duta house at the request of Datuk Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim, the then MP for Baling, chairman of Tabung Haji and a close confidant of Najib.

By that time, the continuous reporting on the problems at 1MDB by The Edge in the past year had made many in Umno uncomfortable. I guess Azeez probably hoped that I could be convinced that all was well and that we stop reporting on 1MDB. Azeez did not know what we knew from the documents from Justo when he arranged that meeting.

I met Najib in the living room. It was just us.

He started by telling me The Edge was wrong and that the problems of 1MDB were its business model of carrying too much debt. There was no theft of money.

I told him otherwise. I shared with him information that I believed was proof that it was all a scam, with Jho Low at the centre of it. I explained how the accounts were made up to report a profit and why I believed the cash was all gone.

After about half an hour, he relented and told me he would shut down 1MDB. He didn’t say what he was going to do about the debts.

I then proceeded to tell Najib that Jho Low must be held accountable and be prosecuted. This upset him. He immediately stood up, walked to the door and asked me to leave.

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I was taken aback that he was so sensitive about Jho Low.

The meeting late into Friday night with Najib did not end well, but The Edge had already decided to publish its first exposé based on the documents we received from Justo.

The cover story, titled ‘Shahrol, Please Explain Good Star, the money 1MDB paid the company and why you took instructions from Jho Low‘, hit the newsstands the next day on March 7, 2015.

In the weeks after, The Edge intensified its exposés.

Paul Stadlen, Najib’s media adviser who is now wanted by investigators, met me on about half a dozen occasions, initially to persuade but later to threaten me about The Edge’s reporting on 1MDB.

While The Edge’s reporting was focused on 1MDB and Jho Low, Stadlen made it very clear that any attack on Jho Low was an attack on Najib, and that he was conveying this message from his boss.

The pressure on us was growing but The Edge did not back off.

I discussed the situation with Najib’s brother Nazir, who had been working closely with me since 2014 to find ways to uncover the shenanigans at 1MDB so that action could be taken. Nazir was also under a lot of pressure to back off.

We agreed that we needed to seek help from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and flew to London in April, where he was at the time, to brief him. We felt only Tun Dr Mahathir could do something.

Aside from Tun Dr Mahathir, Nazir and I also met a few other government leaders. I met Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who was deputy prime minister. All of them wanted to know more about what had happened at 1MDB.

Muhyiddin subsequently spoke up and paid the price as Najib dismissed him as DPM and sacked him from Umno.

On July 24, 2015, the Home Ministry suspended The Edge weekly and The Edge Financial Daily after the daily published a Page 1 story titled ‘How Jho Low and Petro Saudi cheated Malaysia of US$1.83 billion cash‘.

It was obvious that our front page allegation that Jho Low stole US$1.83 billion, supported by a money trail showing cash transfers into bank accounts, spooked Najib into suspending us. Kay Tat and I were investigated by the police for economic sabotage and I was barred from leaving the country.

Najib knew what Jho Low did. We provided the evidence and he shut us down to shut us up.

1MDB issue raised to Najib

On Thursday (Nov 22), Umno Supreme Council member Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman alleged that he had two years ago warned Najib that Jho Low had stolen funds from 1MDB.

The Pasir Salak MP said he pieced the scandal together from the explanation given by former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy and news reports.

He said the matter was raised by him in one of the party’s supreme council meetings.

“I had urged him to take action on 1MDB management and its board of directors, because there were many transactions that did not adhere to the rules, according to reports.

“I remembered my words then, that if we (Umno) waited long enough, we will face a trust deficit problem among the rakyat. They want to see action being taken.

“As a party man, I voiced my concern and I was very serious. But he kept quiet,” he told reporters.

Asked if he had advised (Najib) at a similar time when Muhyiddin voiced his concern, Tajuddin said he was unsure, but claimed he was one of the only few party members to do so.

“I was the only one to raise the issue. And that is why I am not very popular in the party,” he said.

However, Tajuddin said Najib did nothing despite the warning.

Tajuddin also said Umno as a whole did not know about the details of the 1MDB scandal but believed in Najib as he was their leader.

“The members do not know anything. You ask the division leaders, branch leaders and members, they do not know anything about this,” he said.

The party now wants Jho Low to come back and face trial as the scandal has tainted Umno’s image.

“We will have to tackle this. First thing, is to take action on those responsible. We not only want Jho Low to come back but we must go after him.

“The government, the authorities must do the best they can to track him down and bring him back.

“If Hishammuddin says he can do it, let him do it,” Tajuddin said referring to former defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein who has offered to help try and bring the fugitive Jho Low back to face justice.