KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 2 — A Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) officer today confirmed that his investigations on alleged tampering of the National Audit Department’s (NAD) 2016 audit report on 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) was based on former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s alleged instructions to former auditor-general Tan Sri Ambrin Buang.
MACC investigating officer Haniff Lami confirmed this while testifying as the 16th prosecution witness in the joint trial of Najib and former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy.
Arul Kanda’s lead defence lawyer Datuk N. Sivananthan however sought to challenge the basis of the MACC’s investigation of the case.
Asked by Sivananthan, MACC officer Haniff reaffirmed his previous testimony that his investigation was focused on changes to the 1MDB audit report on orders from Najib to Ambrin.
Haniff agreed that this meant that the basis of his investigation was based on his understanding that Ambrin had been instructed to make changes to the 1MDB audit report, and agreed this was why he carried out investigations.
Sivananthan: Meaning what you understand from Tan Sri Ambrin Buang is he made amendments because he was ordered to do so? Haniff: Correct.
Sivananthan: So can I say this was the basis, the starting point for your investigation.
Sivananthan: Because if he was not instructed, there is nothing to investigate? Haniff: Correct.
Sivananthan then highlighted that Ambrin had as the sixth prosecution witness told this trial that he had made the amendments based on his discretion, but Haniff said he did not know of this.
Haniff agreed that Ambrin’s testimony of making amendments at his own discretion and the claim of instructions being given to Ambrin to make amendments were two different things, also agreeing that Ambrin would have the right as auditor-general then to make any amendments.
As for the reason why he had said his investigation findings showed that Najib and Arul Kanda’s actions regarding the 1MDB audit report were to protect themselves from civil or criminal actions regarding 1MDB operations, Haniff agreed that this was also based on his understanding that Ambrin had been instructed to make amendments to the 1MDB audit report.
Sivananthan: The basis of your investigation is Tan Sri Ambrin is auditor-general but he was ordered ‘Tan Sri Ambrin, you make amendments 1, 2, 3,4’, this is your understanding. Now I say, Tan Sri Ambrin had testified in court, saying ‘no, I made amendments on my own discretion. If I want, I do, if I don’t want, I don’t do, this is his testimony in court. Is this very different from the basis of your investigation?
A motorcade transporting Datuk Seri Najib Razak arrives at the compound of the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex September 2, 2022. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Who are the auditees?
Asked by Sivananthan, Haniff agreed that Arul Kanda as the president of 1MDB then had the right to view the audit report on 1MDB and had the right to give his comments or views, further agreeing that it would be up to the auditor-general to decide whether to accept such views.
Later when asked by Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Haniff agreed that the auditor in this case is the auditor-general Ambrin and his team and that 1MDB is the auditee and has to be represented by actual individuals as it is a company.
Agreeing that 1MDB was fully-owned by the Finance Ministry’s Minister of Finance Incorporated (MoF Inc), Haniff confirmed that Najib was the finance minister then and agreed with Shafee’s suggestion that Najib had rights as the purported auditee.
Shafee: Datuk Seri Najib had the right as auditee to be given briefings and also to give any suggestions, whether it is proposals for corrections or proposals to explain the actual situation more?
Former prime minister's wife Datin Rosmah Mansor arrives at Kuala Lumpur high court on September 2, 2022. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Was it an exit conference or not?
An exit conference was previously held on December 16, 2015 as part of the auditing process, to enable 1MDB to provide its feedback on the audit to the National Audit Department. Najib’s and Arul Kanda’s lawyers have during the trial tried to suggest that this may not be the final exit conference.
Haniff agreed with Shafee’s suggestion that exit conferences need not necessarily end in just one day and that complicated matters could be discussed over a few days before the exit conference is concluded.
But Haniff today insisted that the December 2015 exit conference was the actual one held, and said a subsequent February 24, 2016 meeting was not an exit conference.
“To my understanding, an exit conference has to be attended by the auditor and auditee only, and need not be attended by others who are not the auditor and auditee,” he told deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib.
The February 24, 2016 meeting which was held at then chief secretary to the government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa’s office eventually resulted in the removal of four items from the 1MDB audit report, including 1MDB’s two conflicting financial statements for the year 2014 and mention of Low Taek Jho’s presence in a 1MDB board meeting in September 2009.
The February 24, 2016 meeting was chaired by Ali and was attended by Arul Kanda and government officials including Najib’s then principal private secretary Tan Sri Shukry Mohd Salleh, Finance Ministry officials and a representative from the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
Haniff confirmed today that he was aware that the leader of the special audit team on 1MDB, Saadatul Nafisah Bashir Ahmad, had as the seventh prosecution witness testified that the unaltered 1MDB audit report would have been the one presented to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) if not for the February 24, 2016 meeting.
Among other things, Haniff confirmed that 1MDB and its four subsidiaries had in 2021 filed a civil action in the form of a lawsuit against Najib.
In this trial, Najib is accused of having as then prime minister and then finance minister abused his position between February 22, 2016 and February 26, 2016 to receive self-gratification in the form of protection from civil or criminal action over his role in the handling of 1MDB operations.
Najib was accused of having abused his power by allegedly instructing for amendments to the auditor-general’s report on 1MDB — which was already finalised and ready to be presented to the parliamentary watchdog Public Accounts Committee (PAC) — before it was finally presented to the PAC.
While Arul Kanda was charged with abetting in committing the offence, he had also previously testified as the 15th prosecution witness in this trial.
Arul Kanda now remains an accused person until the end of the prosecution case, which is when the High Court will decide whether he had been truthful and whether he should remain an accused person in this trial.
The trial before High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan will resume on September 7, where Najib’s former principal private secretary Tan Sri Shukry Salleh who had previously testified as the 11th prosecution witness is expected to complete his testimony.