Najib’s 1MDB trial: Ex-CFO denies receiving bribes from Goldman Sachs or Tim Leissner

·5-min read
Datuk Seri Najib Razak is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court January 27, 2022. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
Datuk Seri Najib Razak is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court January 27, 2022. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 27 — A former chief financial officer of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) today denied having received any bribes from financial institution Goldman Sachs in exchange for allegedly enabling the latter to make significant profits from a US$1.75 billion bond issued in October 2012 by a 1MDB subsidiary.

Azmi Tahir, the ex-CFO of 1MDB and the 12th prosecution witness, said this while testifying in former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s trial involving the misappropriation of more than RM2 billion of 1MDB funds.

Today, Najib’s lawyer Tania Scivetti questioned Azmi on events surrounding the debt that 1MDB subsidiary 1MDB Energy (Langat) Limited (1MELL) had taken on in 2012 — through the issuing of a US$1.75 billion 10-year bond with an annual interest rate of 5.75 per cent and a separate RM700 million loan from Affin Investment Bank and AmInvestment Bank — in order to buy independent power producer company Mastika Lagenda Sdn Bhd.

Azmi disagreed with Scivetti’s suggestion that his alleged failure to negotiate a lower interest rate for 1MELL had benefited Goldman Sachs by enabling them to profit significantly from the higher interest rate charged, also denied having taken bribes from former South-east Asia head of Goldman Sachs, Tim Leissner.

Scivetti: I put it to you, with your inaction to negotiate a better interest rate for 1MDB, that you, Shahrol and Hazem enabled Goldman Sachs to profit significantly from 1MDB, and in return for them to do so, Tim Leissner and Goldman Sachs paid bribes to 1MDB officials which were you, Shahrol, Hazem and others in the 1MDB management?

Azmi: I disagree. I don’t know about the rest, but I disagree.

Scivetti: Surely you would be aware from the news that Tim Leissner pleaded guilty to bribing 1MDB?

Azmi: That’s why I say I don’t know about the rest, but for me, I disagree.

Scivetti: The 1MDB officials that Tim Leissner and Goldman Sachs officers pleaded guilty to bribing were in fact, you, Shahrol and Hazem?

Azmi: No, I disagree.

Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi was the CEO of 1MDB from 2009 to March 2013, while Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman was 1MDB’s chief operating officer from August 2012 until March 2013 where he served as CEO until January 2015.

Azmi denied that Low had made arrangements with Leissner and Goldman Sachs to ensure that 1MDB officers would be remunerated for carrying out their roles in 1MDB. — Picture via Facebook
Azmi denied that Low had made arrangements with Leissner and Goldman Sachs to ensure that 1MDB officers would be remunerated for carrying out their roles in 1MDB. — Picture via Facebook

Azmi agreed that Low Taek Jho — whom he views to be Najib’s 1MDB adviser and representative for 1MDB matters — seemed to have a “close relationship” with Leissner and other Goldman Sachs officers.

As both 1MDB’s financial adviser and the arranger for the US$1.75 billion bond issued in October 2012 by the 1MDB subsidiary, Scivetti said Goldman Sachs had requested a US$4 million sum in advisory fees in cash and had separately received an arranger fee — at a percentage of the US$1.75 billion bond — that was said to come up to around US$130 million.

Azmi disagreed with her suggestion that Low had made arrangements with Leissner and Goldman Sachs to ensure that 1MDB officers such as Azmi himself, Shahrol and Hazem would be remunerated for carrying out their roles in 1MDB.

Scivetti: I put it to you that you, Shahrol and others received bribes from Tim Leissner and Goldman Sachs from the US$4 million advisory fee.

Azmi: Disagree.

Scivetti suggested that Shahrol had agreed to paying the advisory fee to Goldman Sachs in cash to “avoid a digital footprint” between 1MDB officials like Azmi, Shahrol, Hazem and Goldman Sachs and Tim Leissner for the alleged bribery, but Azmi disagreed.

Earlier, Azmi said he could not confirm whether 1MDB did pay US$4 million in advisory fee as Goldman Sachs had asked for. Scivetti argued that it could be assumed that 1MDB would have paid such a sum if Goldman Sachs did not sue for non-payment, while also noting that a July 2012 document relating to the US$4 million sum had mentioned “cash”.

Among other things, Azmi had today also noted that the 1MDB board of directors had approved the fundraising for 1MDB to purchase Mastika Lagenda, and also noted that the US$1.75 billion bond matter was being handled by 1MDB then general counsel Jasmine Loo as the lead person for it.

On October 22, 2020, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) announced that the US-headquartered Goldman Sachs Group Inc and its Malaysian subsidiary Goldman Sachs (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd. had admitted to conspiring to break the law in a scheme to pay over $1 billion in bribes to Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials to get lucrative business in arranging 1MDB bonds where Goldman Sachs earned hundreds of millions in US dollars in fees.

Goldman Sachs had admitted that its employees including Leissner had conspired with Low or Jho Low to promise and pay over US$1.6 billion in bribes to high-ranking officials in the Malaysian government, 1MDB, Abu Dhabi’s state-owned fund, International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC) and Abu Dhabi’s state-owned firm Aabar Investments PJS (Aabar).

In November 2018, it was reported that Leissner had admitted in the courts in US to a charge of conspiracy for bribery and money laundering, admitting that he had as a Goldman Sachs employee entered into a conspiracy with individuals such as Low to pay bribes and kickbacks to obtain business from 1MDB for Goldman Sachs.

The trial before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes this afternoon.

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