KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 28 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak transferred US$620 million out of his personal AmIslamic account in 2013 to refund the unused portion of a purported political donation, his lawyer claimed in court today.
Lawyer Wan Aizuddin Wan Mohammed suggested this during Najib’s trial over the misappropriation of RM2.28 billion in 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) funds.
However, AmIslamic bank’s Jalan Raja Chulan branch manager R. Uma Devi declined to confirm in court that this was the only reason Najib gave for the US$620 million transfer, based only on the limited documents presented to or known to her. Uma Devi is the 37th prosecution witness in this trial.
Uma Devi explained that customers who wish to send money out from their account and give instructions to the bank, and would typically write down the reasons for the money transfer in the remittance application form or in a letter of instruction.
While Najib did not state the purpose for the US$620 million transfer in his letter of instruction, Uma Devi referred to a line in another letter dated July 30, 2013 signed by Najib and which was addressed to the AmBank Group Treasury head and copied to then AmBank managing director Cheah Tek Kuang.
Uma Devi was referring to the line where Najib told the bank to “thereafter remit/return the foreign currency in a single transfer of US$620 million, which represents the unutilised sum of donations and personal gifts I had received”.
The July 2013 letter was where Najib confirmed his instruction to the bank to convert the ringgit in his AmIslamic bank account with the account number ending 9694 into US$620 million, and to then send the money out to a beneficiary that he was naming in a separate letter of instruction.
Wan Aizuddin then asked: “So, as you can see, US$620 million is a big remittance, so was the bank satisfied with only this letter that contained just three lines of reasoning, or did the bank not request any further documents?”
Uma Devi then said she did not know if AmBank had requested for more documents, pointing out that the bank branch was only involved in the debiting of the account while the actual remittance of the US$620 million was handled by another department within the bank.
Later Wan Aizuddin suggested that the US$620 million sent out from Najib’s account in August 2013 was only to return the alleged donation, but Uma Devi said she could not be certain if there were other documents on the transaction’s purpose which were not being handled by the Jalan Raja Chulan branch of AmBank.
Aizuddin: You agree based on documents, the only reason provided to the bank — the bank did not enquire further to account holder or mandate holder — is that the purpose for this remittance is to return unutilised sum of donations and gifts?
Uma Devi: I’m not sure whether there was any other communication because remittance was done at a different point in time, so the branch was already not involved, so I’m not sure if there’s any other trail of communication.
Aizuddin: I’m just asking you, as far as the documents in your custody, these documents that were in your folder in the branch that you have control over, it shows the only purpose for remittance was to return the donations, that’s all. There’re no other documents.
Uma Devi: There are no other documents here because the branch was not involved in the transaction, we were only involved in the debiting of the account.
AmBank branch manager R. Uma Devi leaves the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex, September 28, 2022. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Today, Uma Devi said it is the duty of bank customers to get approval from Bank Negara Malaysia for remittances that they want to make, and that banks such as AmBank would then proceed with transactions after the approval is obtained.
While Wan Aizuddin suggested that relationship managers at banks would surely assist customers on the bank’s behalf in getting Bank Negara Malaysia’s approval, Uma Devi disagreed and said: “I don’t think so any other person apart from customer can get approval from Bank Negara, that is as far as I know.”
Wan Aizuddin suggested that AmBank’s then managing director Cheah Tek Kuang had himself went to see the Bank Negara Malaysia governor to inform of Najib’s US$620 million remittance and asked whether Uma Devi knew anything about this, but she said “no”.
Today, 38th prosecution witness and former AmBank director of foreign exchange and derivative sales Yap Wai Keat confirmed US$620 million was sent out in August 2013 from Najib’s account to Tanore Finance Corp in five transactions.
Yap confirmed that funds totalling RM2,034,350,000 or over RM2.03 billion in Najib’s 9694 account was first converted in five batches to US$620 million from August 2 to August 23, 2013, explaining that it was not converted to a single transaction as it was a “large amount” and could affect the foreign exchange market if done in one transaction.
After the money in Najib’s AmIslamic account which had been in ringgit Malaysia were converted to US$620 million, Yap confirmed that the money was then sent out via SWIFT instructions on August 23, 2013 to Tanore.
Previously, the prosecution said it would prove the 21 money-laundering charges against Najib in this 1MDB trial by showing various transactions, including a sum of RM2,034,350,000 that he had allegedly transferred to Tanore between August 2 and August 23, 2013.
The prosecution had said Tanore was controlled by fugitive Low Taek Jho’s associate Eric Tan.
Najib’s 1MDB trial before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes tomorrow.