In 1MDB trial, AmBank ex-manager tells High Court persons putting cash into Najib's accounts were Malaysians, not Arabs
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 9 — It was Malaysians and not Arabs who had deposited money into Datuk Seri Najib Razak's bank accounts to ensure his cheques did not bounce, the High Court trying the former prime minister for the multi-billion ringgit embezzlement of 1MDB funds heard today.
Joanna Yu, who had dealt with Najib's private bank accounts previously as AmBank's relationship manager, confirmed the identities of the individuals who had helped top up the accounts when there were not enough funds to cover the cheque amounts.
Yu is the 41st prosecution witness in Najib's trial, where the former finance minister is facing 25 charges over RM2.28 billion of 1MDB funds which were alleged to have entered his AmBank accounts.
Previously, Yu had confirmed past text messages through BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) with Low Taek Jho, where she alerted him that Najib's cheques were at the risk of bouncing due to insufficient funds.
Yu had also confirmed that Low would then make arrangements for other individuals to deposit cash into Najib's accounts to prevent AmBank from rejecting those cheques.
Today, Yu told deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib that it was primarily Kee Kok Thiam and a person known as “Josie” who would come to deposit cash over the bank counter into Najib's accounts, and that Low had once asked her to contact Tan Vern Tact regarding the cash top-ups.
“They worked with Jho during Wynton and Kee was also in Yayasan 1Malaysia, Tan Vern Tact was actually with Loh & Loh,” she said, confirming she knew of these individuals as they are clients of AmBank.
Low was a director of Wynton Private Equity Group, while Low was previously involved in Majestic Masterpiece Sdn Bhd's loan with AmBank to buy over shares in Loh & Loh Corporation and Putrajaya Perdana Berhad.
Akram then asked Yu: “Are they Arabs?”
He said it was a question the late Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram — who was leading the 1MDB prosecution team until his death on January 29 — had wanted to ask Yu.
Yu replied: “No, as far as I know, they are Malaysian Chinese”.
Akram: Malaysian. They are not Arabs?
Yu: No, they are Malaysians.
Akram pointed out that the physical transfer of cash deposits, over the counter into Najib's AmBank account, were a significantly large amount
“Did the account holder, Datuk Seri Najib himself or any of his representatives, his mandate holder, or any of his officers from his office or personal officers enquire about the over the counter transactions?” he asked.
Yu affirmed that no such enquiries were made.
Yu noted that Najib's mandate holder or authorised account handler Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil had even on several occasions asked to ensure the cheques do not bounce and that Nik Faisal had himself said Kee would be making the cash deposits into the account.
She confirmed that this meant Nik Faisal as the mandate holder was aware of the large sums being put into Najib's accounts at the bank counter.
Throughout the trial, Najib's lawyers have insisted that the former prime minister believed the huge sums of funds which entered his private bank accounts were Arab donations or donations from Saudi Arabia.
Yesterday, Yu confirmed that Najib had continued to use the money in his AmBank accounts to issue cheques and make credit card payments without questioning the source of the money which had flowed into his accounts.
Former AmBank manager Joanna Yu arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court Complex February 9, 2023. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
No complaints from Najib about bank statements
Yu said that Low and Nik Faisal had asked that Najib's bank statements should not be sent to him even though AmBank had Najib's house address from his account opening form.
She added that Najib had also issued a letter stating that the bank statements were to be passed to Nik Faisal.
She confirmed that she did not send bank statements for any of Najib's five AmBank accounts to him directly as per the instruction given, adding that she never received any complaints from the ex-PM, his officers, or Nik Faisal about this issue.
Yu noted that the situation at the bank got tense when Najib's bank accounts were frequently overdrawn.
She related that then AmBank managing director Ashok Ramamurthy had urged her to get Najib to close those accounts, but said Low told her that Najib did not want to do so.
She said she supported the idea for Najib to close his AmBank accounts and even suggested to Low that Najib should open accounts with other banks, but added that she did not go as far make the suggestion to Najib directly.
“This is the PM of Malaysia who we didn't want to offend, the prime minister who Jho had said didn't want to close his account,” she testified.
She said that in the end, Najib decided to close the AmBank accounts even without her bringing it up with him directly.
She said Najib gave written instructions to close down the AmBank accounts and cancel his AmBank credit cards after she spoke to Low.
Najib’s 1MDB trial resumes on February 27, with the prosecution confirming that Singapore-based former BSI Bank banker Kevin Michael Swampillai will be the next witness to be called to testify.