KUALA LUMPUR, May 21 — An incident involving home-cooked nasi goreng, or fried rice, strengthened the impression that fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho had a close relationship with former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, 1Malaysia Development Berhad’s (1MDB) former CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi said today.
Shahrol, who was testifying as the ninth prosecution witness in Najib’s corruption and money-laundering trial over more than RM2 billion 1MDB funds, was explaining why he had full confidence in Low, in the past.
Shahrol today explained that he had as 1MDB CEO agreed with various transactions that 1MDB made, as these were briefed to him by Low, with the latter claiming to have had prior briefings with Najib on the same deals.
Shahrol said what gave him “comfort” was that Najib’s subsequent actions were consistent with what Low’s briefings, noting that Najib did not question him on why 1MDB carried out the deals and transactions that it made.
Quizzed by Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Shahrol agreed that he was “very confident” and had “trusted 100 per cent” in Low.
Shafee then asked why Shahrol was so confident in Low, which led to Shahrol recounting his recollection of the incident involving nasi goreng.
Shafee: This is not making fun of you, but rarely someone will agree when I say you trusted 100 per cent in Jho Low.
Shahrol: I did.
Shahrol: Because of his actions, as well as actions of Datuk Seri Najib around him. From the very beginning, about how he seems to have access. One anecdote I can share with the court was that I’m known to make very good nasi goreng. So I treated Jho for some nasi goreng and he asked whether he could bring some to Datuk Seri Najib.
Shahrol said he had agreed with Low’s request to bring some fried rice to Najib, noting Low’s subsequent feedback: “And he said Datuk Seri Najib said ‘this was very good’, words to that effect.”
Acknowledging that he did not personally verify if Najib had tried his nasi goreng, Shahrol said this bolstered his confidence of Low’s ties with Najib, in addition to other events over time.
“Although I didn’t verify with Datuk Seri Najib, but that gave me confidence, he has household access, as well as being able to get access to the Langgak Duta house anytime, giving me phone numbers of assistants so I can get in also.
“All these built up over time... meaning it is a very, very close relationship. And repeatedly once or twice when I confirmed with Tan Sri Lodin to talk with Datuk Seri Najib about specific issues, it’s all consistent with the talking points given to me,” Shahrol said, referring to instances when 1MDB CEO Tan Sri Lodin Wok Kamaruddin checked with Najib on certain 1MDB issues, with Najib’s responses tallying with talking points provided by Low.
While Shahrol was recounting the nasi goreng incident, Najib, who was seated in the dock with a face mask on, was seen shaking his head in seeming disagreement, while many in the courtroom laughed in amusement.
Shafee: Datuk Seri Najib never even said ‘Shahrol, that nasi goreng was damn good’.
Shahrol: No, unfortunately no.
Shafee then shared his assistant’s suggestion that Low could have consumed the fried rice himself, with Shafee also remarking that he was distracted by the nasi goreng anecdote, which then led to Shahrol saying light-heartedly: “One day I will make it for you.”
Shafee today tried to suggest that Najib as the prime minister could not have been involved in the scam and con job by Low to siphon money out from 1MDB under the guise of “investments” in sham entities, claiming that Najib himself was allegedly “conned” as he could not micromanage and has to trust someone.
But Shahrol said he could not speculate on what was within Najib’s knowledge: “I cannot comment on what the prime minister knows or didn’t know at that time.”
On his first day in the witness stand (September 23, 2019), Shahrol had also recounted a food-related incident where Low had brought him directly into Najib’s residence straight past the guards as well as demonstrated familiarity with the house layout, and that Low had asked the staff there for “Milo ais” or an iced chocolate malt drink before meeting with Najib.
Today is the 37th day that Najib is on trial over the 1MDB funds totalling over RM2 billion, with Shahrol expected to continue being cross-examined when the trial resumes after the Hari Raya break.
The trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah is set to resume June 4, as Najib’s other trial involving RM42 million funds of ex-1MDB unit SRC International Sdn Bhd is scheduled to be ongoing on June 1 to June 3.
Today’s proceedings went on smoothly, with no requests raised by either the prosecution or defence for more lawyers involved in the case to be allowed to sit in front. Both sides each had seven lawyers sitting in front of the courtroom today as compared to just three each yesterday, suggesting that arrangements had been worked out to facilitate the trial while taking into account Covid-19 precautions.
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