Challenging 1MDB prosecution witness, defence tells court AmBank sacked her for sharing Najib's private account info with Jho Low
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 3 — The High Court today heard that AmBank sacked Joanna Yu as its employee in 2015 for violating its customer secrecy rules.
Among the violations were disclosing private information about Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s accounts to Low Taek Jho — said to be his proxy — when there was no written letter authorising the flamboyant businessman, better known as Jho Low, to handle his bank matters.
Yu was AmBank’s relationship manager at that time and in charge of the politician’s account.
The reasons for her sacking were disclosed in court by Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah as he sought to challenge Yu’s testimony as the 41st prosecution witness.
Najib is on trial over the misappropriation of RM2.28 billion of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) funds, which were said to have entered his AmBank accounts.
Yu agreed with Shafee that these were the allegations which AmBank had listed to justify their termination of her services, but added that she had challenged her dismissal in the Industrial Court and later reached a settlement with the bank.
Shafee: Can you work on non-written consent? Can ah? Your bank work like that? Are you running some coffee shop, you can make order just by verbal?
Shafee: So you need a written consent, that’s obvious, isn’t it? The first charge levelled against you, you never obtained approval from account holder for a third party called Jho Low to give you instructions or to get information from you pertaining to the accounts, correct?
On her termination in 2015, Yu also agreed that AmBank had given the reasons that she had allegedly given information to Low who was an unauthorised third party about incoming money into Najib’s accounts.
Yu agreed the additional reason given by AmBank was that she was accused of having taken instructions from Low to not communicate information to Bank Negara Malaysia and to keep such information between herself and former AmBank managing director Cheah Tek Kuang.
Yu agreed that AmBank had also cited the allegation of her breaching rules under the Banking and Financial Institutions Act (BAFIA) to maintain secrecy of customers’ information.
Yu did not present the termination letter in court as previously requested by Shafee, saying she was bound by a confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement with the bank to not disclose the letter.
Former AmBank manager Joanna Yu arrives at Kuala Lumpur High Court, February 3, 2023. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Shafee focused on previous BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) chats Yu had with Low close to midnight on December 4, 2014, where she had suggested to Low for Najib’s accounts with AmBank to be closed.
In those BBM messages in December 2014, she explained to Low that this was because Cheah Tek Kuang was leaving AmBank’s board by the end of the month and the bank would not have any direct access to the account holder Najib, and that Cheah’s replacement Ashok Ramamurthy would be updating Bank Negara Malaysia, AmBank’s chief risk officer and AmBank’s board about Najib’s accounts.
Disagreeing that she had made these remarks out of concern that she would be “discovered”, Yu explained that Cheah’s departure from the bank meant that there would not be anyone left with access to the account holder Najib “because he is the prime minister of Malaysia”.
The prosecution witness said Cheah was the only go-to person with direct access to Najib after having met the latter for the account opening forms.
Yu said she had made her remarks to “pressure” Low into getting Najib’s accounts closed, as then AmBank group managing director Ashok had told her he was uncomfortable with Najib’s accounts and asked her to find a way to get those accounts closed.
Pointing out that the AmBank board was actually already aware of Najib’s accounts, Yu said her BBM messages on Najib’s accounts’ details being reported to the board were “just to get the account closed”, as Low had always insisted on strict confidentiality.
“I actually used that, hoping he would close the accounts. To Jho, the account he mentioned, strictly confidential, so I tried before to ask him to close the accounts and he kept saying no, Datuk Seri Najib doesn’t want to close.
“I then had to tell him Mr Cheah is leaving, no one going to contact Najib; Ashok will take over. Ashok will report to everybody, to the board, to try to put pressure for the accounts to be closed,” she said.
She noted that the discomfort over Najib’s accounts could have included factors such as the accounts being overdrawn on multiple occasions and the large sums of money flowing in and out.
Yu later agreed with Shafee that banking rules for customers’ confidentiality meant that bankers cannot even communicate to a wife about her husband’s bank account, and agreed with Shafee’s remark that “Jho Low has got no status whatsoever even as a wife”.
At one point during the cross-examination today, Shafee suggested that Yu was not telling the truth about why Ashok wanted Najib’s accounts closed.
The lawyer suggested she was hiding her complicity with Low “because you are one of the many culprits in the bank who offended every banking rule in order to facilitate Jho Low”.
Yu disagreed with this accusation.
Najib’s 1MDB trial before judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes next Tuesday, with Shafee to continue cross-examining Yu.