1MDB trial: Ex-banker says colleague boasted about meeting Najib, Robert de Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio
KUALA LUMPUR, March 2 — BSI Singapore bank’s former relationship manager Yak Yew Chee who was handling clients like 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) had bragged about meeting then-prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Hollywood stars, his former colleague Kevin Michael Swampillai told the High Court today.
As head of BSI Singapore’s wealth management services department, Swampillai had assisted Yak’s team in transactions for companies like 1MDB, 1MDB subsidiaries and SRC International Sdn Bhd where huge sums of these companies’ money flowed out to fiduciary funds to unknown final destinations.
In this trial, Najib is facing 25 charges over the misappropriation of RM2.28 billion of 1MDB funds, which the prosecution said had entered Najib’s private bank accounts through various accounts and entities such as those fiduciary funds.
Asked by the prosecution whether he had checked with Najib about whether the bank transactions for the 1MDB group of companies were genuine or legal, Swampillai said he did not have contact with Najib and would not have any opportunity to even seek confirmation from the former prime minister as he did not have a client-facing role.
Swampillai noted however that Yak may have had contact with Najib, but said he has no idea of the context of such interactions.
“I don’t recall the exact nature of the context. Yak was a bit boastful, he would generally be talking, sometimes, a throwaway remark having met this person, that person. I did recall he did mention he did interact with Datuk Seri Najib,” the 44th prosecution witness told deputy public prosecutor Mohamad Mustaffa P. Kunyalam.
Later when asked by Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Swampillai said Yak “bragged a lot” about people whom he had met with in the course of his work “like Datuk Seri Najib was mentioned, a number of Hollywood personalities was mentioned”.
Asked who the Hollywood stars were, Swampillai said: “Well if memory serves, I think he mentioned Robert de Niro, Leonardo DiCarpio, those are some of the names that came to mind. I think he attended parties or something.”
As for how Yak got to meet these Hollywood personalities, Swampillai said he “surmised it was due to the fact that he had accompanied Jho Low practically everywhere” and said he had the distinct impression that Yak was “very close” to Low Taek Jho (also known as Jho Low).
When quizzed about Low’s habit of name-dropping influential figures, Swampillai said Low did not do so in his presence as they had very limited interaction which was strictly work-related.
“To be fair, I don’t think I can recall a time when Jho Low ever told me personally that he was close to Datuk Seri Najib or that he had met with or talked with Datuk Seri Najib. There wouldn’t be opportunity for him to do so, because we didn’t interact on that level,” he said.
Swampillai said he may have met Low only two or three times and spoke on the phone a couple of times, while a dinner after a 1MDB subsidiary meeting was inconsequential as he was seated at one end of the table while Low was sitting at the centre of the table talking to those nearer to him.
As for Low’s claims to be Najib’s adviser, Swampillai confirmed he never did hear this from Low directly, but had heard about it through “second-hand” information from his superiors in the bank. He confirmed this was why he had formed the idea that Low was Najib’s adviser.
Najib’s 1MDB trial before judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah will resume on April 17, with Shafee expected to continue cross-examining Swampillai.