KUALA LUMPUR, April 18 — Former 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) chief financial officer Azmi Tahir today said he did not report to his deputy, now-fugitive Terence Geh Choh Heng, but followed instructions from the latter if it appeared to come from ex-prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s alleged representative Low Taek Jho.
Azmi said this while testifying as the 12th prosecution witness in Najib’s trial over the misappropriation of more than RM2 billion of 1MDB funds.
Asked by Najib’s lawyer Wan Aizuddin Wan Mohammed whether he was Geh’s superior at 1MDB, Azmi said that his deputy had actually dealt with 1MDB matters that even he as the superior — on paper — did not know of.
Azmi attributed this to a work-in-silo system which he claimed was how 1MDB personnel were operating under, and said this meant that he was not the “all-powerful” CFO as his title would suggest because he was in reality not involved in many key finance affairs.
“On paper, yes, because I was CFO, he was deputy. But in terms of things we look at, I don’t look at everything he looks at, so that’s just the way this work in silo is organised,” he said, noting that Geh had told former 1MDB CEO Mohd Hazem Abd Rahman about a loan previously but had not even told Azmi about it.
Just like 1MDB’s former general counsel Jasmine Loo who, like Geh, is seen as Low’s associate and also now a fugitive wanted in Malaysia, Azmi said there were matters in 1MDB handled by both Loo and Geh that Azmi is not involved in, due to the work in silo system.
Wan Aizuddin then turned the focus away from withholding of information by Geh, and asked if Azmi would do what Geh told him to do in 1MDB matters.
Azmi replied: “If I believe it came from Jho Low — the message, normally I would check — yes, and also because he was my deputy. And other circumstances he was co-signatory and so there are different reasons I would.”
When Wan Aizuddin suggested it would be prudent for Azmi to double check as the superior and person in charge when his deputy suggests that he do something, Azmi said this would generally be true but would not apply to 1MDB.
This prompted Wan Aizuddin to ask: “You as CFO answer to your deputy?”
Azmi then said: “Not answer, but if there are things I believe came from Jho Low who I believe was representing Datuk Seri Najib and that came through Terence to do something, I would do, yes.”
While confirming that he could directly communicate with Low and that Low would from time to time give instructions to him, Azmi confirmed that he also perceived Geh to be getting instructions from Low on 1MDB matters.
When Wan Aizuddin asked “what makes Terence superior” since both Geh and Azmi received instructions from Low, Azmi again cited the work-in-silo system to explain the situation.
Azmi said the work system on a “need-to-know basis” was implemented in 1MDB and widely accepted even by his superiors who he answers to such as the 1MDB CEO and the 1MDB board of directors, stressing that it was not his allegation but his understanding that even the board was working in silo and taking instructions from Low.
Wan Aizuddin: This is your allegation, the board works in silo, taking instructions from Jho Low?
Azmi: That is not my allegation, that is my understanding. The fact that decisions can be made with DCR (directors’ circular resolution) and on issues which you said finance can have a say, which I don’t.
By this time sounding exasperated as he fought back Najib’s legal team’s persistent suggestions since he took the witness stand that the CFO should have known details on 1MDB’s key financial affairs, Azmi pointed out as example that 1MDB had decided to take on debt by issuing a US$1.75 billion bond through a DCR without the finance department being involved.
“You keep saying I’m CFO, I should know, acquisition of Langat, US$1.75 billion bond to be issued, when we issued the first bond, was there any people of finance? No.
“It was just DCR which the board approved, how is that not work in silo, I don’t understand. That’s why the same allegations being put to me, the all-powerful finance, that’s not the case. That’s what I have been trying to explain from the start. It’s not just superiors, it’s different people doing different things,” he said.
Asked by Wan Aizuddin if the only person who could explain all this would be Low as he is the one who orchestrated the 1MDB scheme, Azmi said “I guess so”.
Wan Aizuddin: You are using all these big words, work in silo, need to know basis, and gerak kerja sulit (confidential work arrangements), but really nobody understands what are all these things, because as far as evidence is concerned, you are taking instructions from Jho Low.
Azmi: I’m sorry you don’t understand.
Wan Aizuddin: Everybody takes instructions from Jho Low.
Azmi: Yes, because we believe he is representing Datuk Seri Najib the shareholder.
While Wan Aizuddin asked if he had checked if Low was truly representing Najib, Azmi said he had already answered this question many times of whether he had checked with Najib and he said that he thought it was not appropriate to do so.
Najib, who was the prime minister and chairman of 1MDB’s board of advisers then, was also representing 1MDB’s shareholder MoF Inc in his capacity as the finance minister then.
Najib’s trial before Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes this Wednesday.
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