KUALA LUMPUR, March 1 — Then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s voice was instantly recognisable when he made a phone call in 2014 to check on 1Malaysia Development Berhad’s (1MDB) purported US$2.3 billion “investment”, a former Singapore banker told the High Court today.
Kevin Michael Swampillai, a 58-year-old Malaysian who was previously BSI Bank Singapore’s head of wealth management services, spoke about this conference call in 2014 that was made on Najib’s request.
Swampillai took the witness stand for the first time today as the 44th prosecution witness in Najib’s trial over RM2.28 billion of 1MDB funds — which were said to have entered the former finance minister’s private bank accounts.
Asked by deputy public prosecutor Mohamad Mustaffa P. Kunyalam how he was able to identify Najib’s voice in the conference call, Swampillai said: “I heard Datuk Seri Najib on television many times, so he’s got a distinctive voice, so when he came on the conference call, I immediately recognised the voice.”
According to Swampillai, BSI Singapore relationship manager Yak Yew Chee had told him and his subordinate Yeo Jiawei that Najib wanted to have a quick chat with the fund manager of Bridge Funds which was managing 1MDB’s purported overseas investment of US$2.3 billion.
Swampillai said he and Yeo later arranged for the conference call with the fund manager’s representative Lobo Lee on the date given by Yak.
“There were vague reasons given to us for this call requested by Najib. After some questioning by myself, I got to know from Yak that Najib wanted to ask Lobo certain questions about the valuation of the Bridge Funds.
“I cannot remember the exact date of the call but it was sometime in 2014. Yeo and I attended the call simply to introduce Lobo to Najib. The call connection was bad as Najib was calling from overseas somewhere and Lobo was on a ferry to Macau so there was constant static interference during the call so both parties did not hear each other too well,” he said.
During the course of the trial, the High Court had heard that the US$2.3 billion investment by 1MDB was actually worthless and a sham investment.
Today, Swampillai said his involvement in 1MDB’s Cayman Islands subsidiary Brazen Sky Limited’s US$2.3 billion investment in Bridge Funds was gradually reduced from 2013 onwards while Yeo took on a more prominent role for BSI Singapore.
“Effectively I had been sidelined and removed from the information flow as Jho Low had started to develop concerns over leaks given the extent of information that started to appear in the media at that time. I was suspected of being a potential source of these leaks and therefore sidelined,” he said.
He shared his observation that it was Low Taek Jho — or Jho Low who touted himself to be Najib’s adviser — who had given the “green light” for Brazen Sky’s US$2.3 billion investment to Bridge Funds, noting that he had observed 1MDB staff Jasmine Loo and Terence Geh having to refer to Low as a “higher authority” and that they implemented his decision.
Even after being sidelined, Swampillai said he was aware that Brazen Sky did not actually earn a “legitimate return or profits” from the purported US$2.318 billion investment in Bridge Funds.
He said he later found out that Hong Kong-based fund manager Bridge Partners International Investment Limited had taken various steps to give the false impression that the investments were generating dividends or profits.
He said that a company called Affinity Partners had provided the cash to support a US$198 million dividend payout in September 2013 to Brazen Sky, when there were no profits being generated by the purported US$2.3 billion investment.
As for a US$1.39 billion partial redemption of the US$2.3 billion investment sometime between September and November 2014 by Brazen Sky, Swampillai said he later found out that this was money that was recycled between Bridge Funds, a fiduciary fund and a fake firm modeled after Abu Dhabi firm Aabar PJS to create this partial redemption sum.
Najib’s 1MDB trial before judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes tomorrow, with Swampillai expected to continue to testify.