Tong suggested that Low be investigated and prosecuted.
The Edge Media Group chairman was asked to leave the residence of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak after the media magnate suggested that fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, should be investigated and charged for stealing US$700 million from 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), the High Court heard.
Tan Sri Tong Kooi Ong, 63, testified that he had met with Najib at his Langgak Duta residence on March 6, 2015, where the two had a conversation about 1MDB and the coverage that The Edge had been carrying out on the sovereign wealth fund.
Tong, who was giving a viva voce (oral) evidence in an examination-in-chief conducted by lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram at Najib’s trial involving 1MDB, said that he had known Najib since the 1990s.
Sri Ram: Do you recall having a meeting with Najib on March 6, 2015, at about 10.45pm? Why did you go to see Najib?
Tong: Yes, I did. Following the various evidence, the emails we had obtained from former PetroSaudi International Ltd (PSI) executive Xavier Andre Justo from his email… After analysing them, we were concerned with what was happening.
When asked who “we” that Tong was referring to, the witness said it was him, The Edge Media Group publisher and group CEO Ho Kay Tat as well as those who worked on the 1MDB investigative report.
Recalling the meeting, Tong said Najib looked worn out.
“I commented that he looked rather tired. We sat diagonally in his living room. He proceeded to give his views that the articles on The Edge (on 1MDB) were wrong,” he said.
Tong said he explained to Najib that based on what The Edge already had in their possession, namely emails from PetroSaudi that Justo had passed on to them in Singapore, there was evidence that PetroSaudi was not a company owned by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“There were thousands and thousands of emails but from what we extracted there was clear evidence that PetroSaudi was a privately owned company.
“I also told him that the US$1 million pumped into the joint venture was not based on real evaluation, namely the oil and gas assets were not owned by PetroSaudi.
“That US$700 million (from the JV) went to Good Star Ltd. I basically explained that Good Star belonged to Jho Low,” Tong said.
Sri Ram: Did you suggest what should be done with Jho Low?
Tong: Yes, I did. I saw Najib as a friend. I told him that Jho Low had done something wrong and should be investigated and prosecuted. He stole US$700 million.
The prosecutor then asked what was Najib’s reaction, to which Tong said: “He stood up, he went to the door and he opened the door for me to leave”.
Sri Ram: And did you leave?
Tong: Yes, of course.
Despite the rough ending, Tong said The Edge had carried more 1MDB-related articles after the meeting.
Tong was also asked about Paul Stadlen, Najib’s former media adviser at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
The witness said he met Stadlen at an event hosted by The Edge which Najib attended as the guest-of-honour.
“During the event, he (Stadlen) tried to be friendly. He was trying to convince me that The Edge shouldn’t be writing the articles we were writing because he said it was making many people at the PMO upset.
“He said that the PMO is powerful, and we should be careful,” Tong said.
Tong also told the court that as a consequence of publishing 1MDB-related articles, three other The Edge reporters were investigated by the police, and they were detained overnight in jail.
“In fact, I was banned from leaving the country, and I was also investigated by the Inland Revenue Board for money laundering and tax evasion and The Edge’s publication was suspended but that was lifted by the court,” he added.
Najib, 69, is on trial for 25 charges in total – four for abuse of power that allegedly brought him the financial benefit to the tune of RM2.28 billion; and 21 for money laundering involving the same amount of money.
The hearing continues before Justice Collin Lawrence Sequerah on Thursday (Nov 17). – The Star