KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 14 — Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak was a “nice man” who remained silent when he was urged to have two 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) officials charged, former Treasury secretary-general Tan Sri Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah told the High Court.
Irwan was testifying as the 42nd prosecution witness in this trial, where Najib is accused over the misappropriation of RM2.28 billion of 1MDB funds that were alleged to have entered his personal bank accounts.
Asked by lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram whether he had informed Najib that 1MDB and its then CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi were allegedly uncooperative in the past towards the Finance Ministry, Irwan said he did so after parliamentary watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), released its findings on 1MDB in 2016.
At the same time, Irwan lamented that he is now facing criminal charges despite his attempts to help restructure 1MDB and to help the government-owned money pay off its debts.
“After the PAC, in fact I went and informed him, because the PAC’s recommendation, if you go and read the Hansard, PAC recommendation — one is to restructure 1MDB, that’s what I have been doing, restructuring the whole 1MDB. Second, to pay the debt so that we don’t cross-default, because I paid the debt, you know, the previous government charged me unnecessarily, there’s a case going on.
“Third thing was mentioned specifically by PAC, to charge Shahrol Azral as CEO and also board chairman that is Tan Sri Lodin.
“So I went and saw the prime minister, I told him, I said ‘Sir, restructuring, I’m doing to make 1MDB viable again because of the debt’. You know when I took over as chairman, there is only debts, the assets is only TRX and Bandar Malaysia, so I need to monetise TRX and Bandar Malaysia to make the whole 1MDB viable.
“Secondly, repaying loan because the debt has been paid previously by my predecessor, the minister also paid, when I took over, I also started paying, because if you don’t pay, there will be cross-default and country will be declared bankrupt. And previous government, when Lim Guan Eng took over, he was also paying the debt, so I don’t understand the charge brought against me,” he said, although he also sought to downplay his comments on his own trial by saying that would be a story for another day.
“Third thing, I told Datuk Seri Najib, charge these two fellows,” he said.
Sri Ram: You told him they needed to be charged?
Irwan: But he’s a nice man, he just kept quiet, knowing Datuk Seri Najib, he’s a nice man.
Sri Ram: He just kept quiet?
Irwan: So that’s it.
The PAC report dated April 7, 2016 on 1MDB however did not actually recommend for Shahrol and former 1MDB chairman Tan Sri Che Lodin Wok Kamaruddin to be charged, but had instead noted weaknesses in 1MDB’s governance by the management and board of directors.
The PAC report had said it believed Shahrol Azral needed to take responsibility for those weaknesses and blunders, and urged law enforcement agencies to carry out further investigation on Shahrol Azral and others involved in 1MDB’s management. It did not mention Lodin’s name in such recommendations.
As for Irwan's own trial, he is likely referring to his joint trial with Najib — where hearing has yet to begin — over alleged criminal breach of trust in relation to RM6.6 billion of government funds.
Tan Sri Irwan Serigar Abdullah lamented that he is now facing criminal charges despite his attempts to help restructure 1MDB and to help the government-owned money pay off its debts. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
RM25,000 monthly allowance, no meetings held
Irwan was promoted to Treasury secretary-general in August 2012 and continued holding this post until June 2018, and had been a member of 1MDB’s advisory board from August 2012 and up to 2015 and was 1MDB chairman from June 2016 to May 2018.
Irwan said Najib had appointed him to the 1MDB advisory board after his promotion as Treasury secretary-general, noting that he had received a RM221,774 lump sum payment via a 1MDB cheque in August 2013 for this role from August 2012 to August 2013.
After that, Irwan said he had consistently received RM25,000 every month in allowance from 1MDB for his role as 1MDB’s advisory board member from August 26, 2013 until 2015.
“I did not ask for this allowance, and this payment was made by 1MDB to me through 1MDB cheques,” he said, putting down the period when he received allowances from 1MDB as being from 2013 to 2016.
After 1MDB’s board of advisers was abolished by Najib himself following the PAC probe on 1MDB, Irwan said he had continued to receive a RM25,000 allowance every month through 1MDB cheques for his role then as 1MDB chairman, and confirmed he had received a RM300,000 lump sum payment in 2016.
Since his appointment to the advisory board until it was abolished, Irwan confirmed he had never been called to or receive any invitation to attend 1MDB board of advisers meeting.
“To me, this meeting had never been held because I had never seen any 1MDB board of advisers’ meeting minutes being referred to me. Although the board of advisers chairman is YAB PM cum Finance Minister, he himself had never told me about any meetings related to this 1MDB board of advisers,” he said, referring to Najib who was also finance minister and chair of the 1MDB advisory board then.
Irwan said he knew then chief secretary to the government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa as also being a 1MDB advisory board member, while saying that he did know other members who were also appointed as no meetings had been held.
Irwan said he had asked Ali previously on whether the 1MDB board of advisers had meetings, but said the latter too did not know of any such meetings.
“So after that, I too never asked the chief secretary to the government or the YAB PM who was also the finance minister. However as board of advisers’ member, I was not involved at all in making any decisions in terms of the company’s operations and also investments made by 1MDB,” he said.
However, Irwan also claimed that he had given advice unofficially, due to his position as Treasury secretary-general then.
“But I would like to add, My Lord, although board of advisers’ meetings were not called, but you know unofficially, because I’m the Treasury secretary-general you know and also 1MDB is related to MOF, unofficially advice were given or sometimes ask me. So there are advice, sometimes he listens, sometimes he doesn’t, he has his own decision and so on,” Irwan said, without specifying who he had given such unofficial advice to.
Among other things, Irwan said he had never met or communicated with Low Taek Jho throughout his entire service as Treasury secretary-general and later when he was 1MDB chairman.
Low who is better known as Jho Low is now a fugitive wanted for his role in the 1MDB scandal.
Irwan said he had only known about Low being linked to 1MDB for the first time while being interviewed by the PAC in 2015 and based on news reports. Irwan had been called in for the PAC proceedings on May 19, 2015 to provide a briefing on 1MDB.
This afternoon, Sri Ram started playing an audio clip in court, with Irwan identifying one of the voices there as sounding like Najib’s voice.
The voice identified as sounding like Najib had addressed the other individual as “Your Highness” and spoke about the need to resolve an impasse regarding 1MDB and IPIC which was alleged to be embarassing to both Malaysia and the UAE.
Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah however objected to the audio recording and the transcript being admitted as evidence in this trial, suggesting that this was an “illegal taping” and not to be used in court, and also highlighted that the conversation was between two heads of states. The judge decided to hear full arguments by Shafee and Sri Ram on the audio clip on another day.
Najib’s 1MDB trial before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah could resume tomorrow afternoon or on Wednesday, depending on how long court proceedings for Najib’s other trial before High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan will take tomorrow.
Tomorrow, Zaini will be hearing submissions from both the prosecution and the defence on whether Najib should be called to enter his defence in his trial over his alleged abuse of power as prime minister and finance minister to instruct changes to the Auditor-General’s 1MDB audit report — which was already ready to be presented to the PAC — before it was finally presented to the PAC.
Former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy was accused of having abetted Najib in that 1MDB audit report case, but had also testified as a prosecution witness there against Najib.