KUALA LUMPUR, May 18 — A former chairman of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) today said then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had in 2016 made a phone call asking him to meet the then Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) chairman Datuk Seri Hasan Arifin, ahead of the bipartisan parliamentary watchdog’s inquiry into 1MDB.
Former 1MDB chairman Tan Sri Mohd Bakke Salleh said he was also asked to not mention Najib or Low Taek Jho in the PAC proceedings that he was to attend.
Bakke said this while testifying as the 15th prosecution witness in Najib’s trial over the misappropriation of more than RM2 billion of 1MDB funds.
Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah was asking why the notes of PAC proceedings on February 11, 2016 had not recorded Bakke as having informed then prime minister Najib about 1MDB management’s irregularities being the cause for Bakke’s resignation from the 1MDB board in 2009.
Bakke then sought to provide the context for what had happened before he attended the PAC hearing on February 11, 2016, noting that he was called to attend two meetings with the PAC chairman before he testified in the PAC hearings about 1MDB.
“And about maybe two weeks before that, I received a call from the prime minister asking me to meet with the chairman of the PAC, Datuk Hasan Arifin. He asked me to meet up at the house of Datuk Seri Ahmad Farid Ridzuan, the former managing director of TV3.
“And if I could just recall the kind of words, the PM, the telephone call was from the PM, definitely before the PAC hearing. He wanted me to meet up with Hasan Arifin and also with Datuk Farid Ridzuan, just to make sure that we all understand roughly what needed to be shared or said at the PAC, and that was the gist of it, some kind of harmony.
“At that time the concern was to safeguard the reputation of PM, worried about the fallout from this 1MDB matter, 1MDB saga.
“I said ok, but I also mentioned to PM, your concerns would be allayed if I’m not called to this hearing, that would be better, but obviously that was not the case, I was called,” he said.
Bakke said he met Hasan twice on two different days at Farid’s house in Kiara Hills, with former 1MDB CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi present at the first meeting and then 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy present at the second meeting.
“So the meeting essentially was just trying to come up with certain guidelines, ‘when you are asked by PAC, please don’t come out with anything that is considered to be sensitive or anything that could create ripple effect, etc.’ That’s how I interpreted the thing,” he said.
“I got this impression that Hasan Arifin and Farid were just trying to get me to be more accommodative, don’t be too hard with your testimony or replies to the PAC, don’t try to skirt certain things, because Jho Low’s name was considered taboo anyway, cannot mention.
Asked what matters were considered to be “sensitive”, Bakke replied: “Two things, one, Jho Low’s name, the other — the PM — try not to make any reference to the PM, try to just talk about in terms of management, was more trying to set up things on management. That was the sort of comments shared or the kind of subtle guidelines or instructions that were flagged out by Datuk Hasan Arifin and also Farid Ridzuan — these two because they were the ones that organised this.”
Bakke said he just listened as he knew what he would be saying at the PAC inquiry and that he would not be compromising his testimony at the PAC inquiry, noting: “I wouldn’t allow anyone to influence me. So I would just relate that, because those are factual things, so I’m not going to mince my words.”
Following the meetings with Hasan, Bakke noted that subsequently when he attended the PAC hearing on February 11, 2016, the “aura or setting was already set”, while also pointing out Shahrol Azral’s presence in the same PAC proceedings even though the latter would testify after him.
“And strangely enough, I think I was called first before PAC, but Shahrol also joined the meeting. I thought it was rather strange for someone also going to face PAC later also sitting in the meeting,” Bakke said.
Shafee then continued to quiz Bakke on why he had not told the PAC that he had informed Najib through an SMS or text message about irregularities in 1MDB’s US$1 billion purported joint venture deal in 2009 with PetroSaudi International, with Shafee arguing that this would not be considered “sensitive”.
But Bakke noted that he had not been given a draft of the PAC proceeding notes to be able to check if it had fully captured everything that he had said during the inquiry, believing that he would have mentioned or alluded to the SMS to Najib in October 2009 as he felt it “impossible” that it was not mentioned at the PAC hearing.
Bakke however also said he could not remember or say with certainty if he did mention the SMS to Najib in the PAC hearing, as it took place more than six years ago.
Bakke agreed that he had still mentioned Low’s name in the PAC inquiry even though it was supposed to be taboo, further agreeing with Shafee that he had still mentioned Najib’s name in PAC’s probe on 1MDB.
Shafee: You did not care about that guideline given to you at the house meeting, it made no difference to you. They also said — according to you — try not to mention PM’s name but to you that is also irrelevant because if there is something about PM that is important for you to mention, you will mention.
Bakke also confirmed that he had mentioned the SMS to Najib in May 2015 when he gave his first statement to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) while assisting in the 1MDB probe.
Previously saying that he recalled using up the maximum word length for his SMS in October 2009 to Najib, Bakke today gave a summary of what he recalled telling the then prime minister, including how the 1MDB management had split the company’s US$1 billion into two transactions of US$700 million and US$300 million against the 1MDB board’s instructions and the 1MDB management’s failure to fulfill the four conditions set by the board for the US$1 billion deal.
Asked by Shafee if he had messaged to Najib in a way that “ought to make the PM sit up and say this is serious, what Tan Sri Bakke is telling me”, Bakke said the matter that he was telling Najib would have raised concern.
“It was a message that you know, a very important breach by management that is a cause for concern for the board, and I would expect for him as well, where payments were made against the instructions of the board.
“So obviously I didn’t come out with a note saying, ‘please read this urgently, please act on it’, I didn’t put that. You send messages to the PM, there is a kind of decorum, you cannot do certain things that would be construed to be not polite or certainly not a conformative standard,” he said.
Bakke explained that he had chosen to send an SMS to Najib instead of meeting the latter face to face to notify about the reason for his resignation, as he suspected that Najib would personally benefit from the US$1 billion deal which the then prime minister instructed to be expedited.
Najib’s 1MDB trial before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes tomorrow, with Bakke expected to continue being cross-examined by Shafee.
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