AmBank ex-banker: Jho Low was adviser to Najib, 1MDB officials called the duo ‘boss’ and ‘big boss’
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 9 — Low Taek Jho had claimed to be an adviser to then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in the past, with top 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) officers even referring to Low as “boss” and Najib as “big boss”, a former AmBank banker said today.
Joanna Yu, the former AmBank relationship manager in charge of dealing with Najib’s personal accounts, said this in the High Court today.
Testifying as the 41st prosecution witness in Najib’s trial over the misappropriation of RM2.28 billion of 1MDB funds, Yu explained that she did not doubt that Low was Najib’s adviser.
Having been introduced by her AmBank team leader in 2007 to Low as a bank customer whose company had a bank loan, Yu said 1MDB was involved in real estate and power plants. Yu said 1MDB later came under her team’s purview as her team was focusing on infrastructure and construction.
“It was then I continued to deal with Jho Low because he represented himself as adviser of chairman of board of advisers of 1MDB, and that time it was Najib,” she said, referring to Najib as the chair of 1MDB’s board of advisers.
Yu referred to her dealings with 1MDB’s former officers such as former CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi, former executive director Casey Tang, former chief investment officer Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil, former chief financial officers Radhi Mohamad and Azmi Tahir and former deputy chief financial officer Terence Geh.
“All the meetings we had with 1MDB, they would refer to Jho Low as ‘boss’ and Datuk Seri Najib as ‘big boss’. He was very instrumental in their dealings on 1MDB, and for me, I believe he was truly the adviser to Datuk Seri Najib.
“I have not seen Datuk Seri Najib at 1MDB offices but I’ve seen Jho Low there once and I believe every time when Shahrol and Nik or even Azmi talked about deals, they always referred back to Jho and ‘big boss’, so I didn’t doubt Jho was representing Datuk Seri Najib,” she said, stressing that she had always dealt with Low as the adviser to Najib.
Yu confirmed that no one had ever told her that Low is not Najib’s adviser.
Former AmBank manager Joanna Yu arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court Complex February 9, 2023. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
No doubt that Low was in contact with Najib
Explaining why she believed Low was Najib’s adviser, Yu said Low had repeatedly mentioned he was meeting the prime minister, and that he had also passed on messages when Najib was facing problems in using his AmBank credit cards.
Asked by deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib why she had continued to believe Low, Yu replied that whatever Low had said was happening did actually happen — such as when money was coming into Najib’s personal accounts or when Najib was issuing cheques to make payments out from his accounts.
“I did not have reason to doubt him because when he says a cheque was written, a cheque was written; when he says Datuk Seri Najib’s card can’t be used, the cards actually there were transactions rejected; when he says there’s incoming funds to Datuk Seri Najib’s accounts, there were incoming funds. I did not doubt that he was representing Datuk Seri when he communicated to me,” she said, referring to Najib merely by his title “Datuk Seri”.
Yu was asked to clarify why she contacted Low regarding Najib’s accounts, when Najib did not give written authorisation for Low to manage his accounts.
She explained that she did not personally check with Najib regarding Low’s role, noting: “This was also because he was the prime minister of Malaysia. I didn’t think I would just walk up or call his office, it was not my level.”
She pointed out that even when Najib first opened his bank accounts at AmBank, she was told that it was not her level to deal with the prime minister directly and it was the bank’s then managing director Cheah Tek Kuang who met with Najib for the account opening.
But Yu said she had executed her duties as AmBank relationship manager then in relation to Najib’s accounts to the best of her ability, noting that she had kept everyone in AmBank “who needs to be in the know” updated about Najib’s accounts — including the compliance and audit divisions within the bank.
Yu said she had also checked with AmBank’s internal divisions, who confirmed that foreign currency transactions and cash transactions were all being reported. She also kept prompting Low and Najib’s authorised account handler Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil to update Bank Negara Malaysia about the account transactions.
Yu confirmed she did not receive any benefits out of her dealings with Low.
Yu confirmed both she and AmBank were not told that Najib made any objections regarding Low.
Clarifying a previous BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) chat she had with Low when he was ill, Yu said: “Even other clients of mine, if they are sick, I would say do you need anything, I didn’t cook him soup, but I would offer, you know, are you sick, do you need anything.”
Deputy Public Prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court Complex February 9, 2023. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
BBM chats with Jho Low on credit cards for Najib’s benefit
Akram today showed Yu various BBM chats she had with Low, including where Low said Najib urgently needed to verify credit card transactions amounting to RM3.3 million for jewellery in Italy and to have credit card spending of €1.2 million “for you know what purchase”, as well as when Low had forwarded Najib’s message to ask for AmBank to help with his Platinum credit cards which were not going through.
“From Datuk Seri, please help ASAP, he is chasing, he is in Hawaii, and wants to charge USD100,000,” Akram read out Low’s past messages to Yu.
Yu said these BBM messages — especially on the credit cards — resulted in her not doubting that Low was actually in contact with Najib.
Referring to the Italy incident which she recalled, Yu said: “Because the bank actually rejected certain transactions because the limit wasn’t enough and I felt really bad because we rejected the PM’s credit card transactions. That one I was worried that there would be repercussions, he’s using the card and it didn’t go through, and I recall that transaction. I believe all these were Jho communicating with Datuk Seri or he received instructions.”
Asked by Akram for whose benefit the BBM messages were sent, Yu said: “These were all regarding Datuk Seri’s credit cards or cheques issued and it was for Datuk Seri’s benefit.”
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.