Najib-Arul Kanda trial: Audio clip reveals Ali Hamsa saying 1MDB audit report changes for national interest, to protect PM’s name

Ida Lim

Former chief secretary to the government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court November 20, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 20 — The voice recording of a February 2016 meeting to discuss changes to the Auditor-General’s (A-G) audit report on 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) that was played in court today revealed how “national interest” and the protection of then prime minister’s reputation were used to justify such changes.

The entire audio clip lasting around two hours and 40 minutes was played in court during the joint trial of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy over the alleged tampering of the A-G’s 1MDB audit report.

The recording was of the February 24, 2016 meeting that then chief secretary to the government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa had organised for the discussion of changes in the 1MDB audit report, before the report was finalised and presented to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Ali, who had yesterday testified that the meeting was called due to Najib’s instructions to remove dissatisfactory content in the audit report, was heard speaking in the audio clip.

The meeting was attended by representatives from 1MDB (Arul Kanda), National Audit Department (then Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang and Saadatul Nafisah Bashir Ahmad), Treasury (Datuk Seri Mohamad Isa Hussain and Asri Hamdin), Attorney General’s Chambers (Tan Sri Dzulkifli Ahmad), Prime Minister’s Office (Tan Sri Shukry Mohd Salleh), Ali’s own senior private secretary Datuk Norazman Ayob.

Datuk Seri Najib Razak arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court November 20, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

From the audio clip, Ali was heard telling those present that the Auditor-General’s audit report on 1MDB did not mention the prime minister directly, but still had a lot of “indirect” references to the prime minister.

“That’s why I thought maybe we should go through this report and try to verify certain things, verify, clarify if possible,” Ali was heard saying.

Ali was heard arguing that it would be better to directly take legal action or to charge any individuals involved in relation to any 1MDB matters, instead of including such information in the report.

“So this the more we disclose, the harder it is for us to defend, especially the PM’s name will be tarnished,” he was heard saying, later saying that they were “looking more from the impact of the country”.

Ali was also heard saying that the intention was not for those who have committed any wrongdoing to “escape”, but said those facts should be put aside and left to the authorities to act upon.

“We are not here to do investigation. We are here to report the facts,” Ali was heard saying.

When concluding the meeting, Ali was heard saying of the meeting: “For us, it’s basically national interest. We want to take care of our national interest.”

He had earlier spoken of the need to ensure the report does not impact the national economy.

As a result of the February 24, 2016 meeting, four main items were removed from the Auditor-General’s audit report on 1MDB, including an incident where Najib failed to inform the Cabinet over the agreement with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to delay a RM5 billion fund-raising exercise.

Lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram today questioned Ali about the meaning of the phrase “national interest” that Ali had repeatedly referred to during the meeting.

“About country as a whole, wellbeing, name of country, reputation of country,” Ali replied.

When asked further on how the country’s reputation would be affected if the “truth is published”, Ali replied: “If it’s all truth, it wouldn’t affect, it can proceed. But there were some arguments so that’s why we have to make sure everything is the truth.”

Former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy arrives at the Kuala Lumpur High Court November 20, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

What the audio clip showed

The audio clip showed those present at the meeting going through the chapters of the Auditor-General’s report on 1MDB, including Najib’s aide Shukry at one point expressing concern that the mention of Najib’s failure to notify the Cabinet on the RM5 billion fund-raising issue could be used to give the impression that the prime minister was lying and hiding facts.

When asked about the audit report’s mention of the existence of two different versions of 1MDB’s 2014 financial statements, Ambrin was heard saying that the National Audit Department had discovered these two versions and had even cross-checked this with the banks.

“You are telling the bank you have a lot of money, when actually you don’t have money,” he was heard saying in the audio clip.

Ali had yesterday testified that this portion was later dropped from the audit report in favour of a police report being lodged by 1MDB’s owned Finance Ministry for investigations on possible fraud or concealment of facts.

During the audio clip, Arul Kanda was heard arguing for amendments to the 1MDB audit report and providing 1MDB’s clarification of matters mentioned

Former auditor-general of Malaysia Tan Sri Ambrin Buang speaks at the Malaysian Economic Convention 2019 at Eastin Hotel in Petaling Jaya June 17, 2019. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Throughout the audio clip, Ambrin could be heard insisting on the veracity of the National Audit Department’s findings by citing evidence that it had discovered, as well as saying the report was only stating the facts of what had happened.

Ambrin was also heard resisting suggestions to remove portions or information from the 1MDB audit report.

Nafisah, who led the NAD’s special audit team on 1MDB, could also be heard repeatedly explaining and pointing out that the information in the audit report — which were queried during the meeting — were merely “statement of fact”.

When information in the 1MDB audit report was challenged by individuals such as Arul Kanda, Nafisah was also heard regularly pointing out that these details or the way they were worded were taken from 1MDB documents such as board meetings’ minutes.

Ambrin was also heard saying in the meeting that 1MDB had failed to provide certain supporting documents, while Arul Kanda was heard explaining that some of these documents were not provided due to reasons such as them being in the police’s custody or these being non-existent due to banking practices.

Towards the end of the audio clip, Ali was heard asking for the 1MDB audit report drafts that they were referring in the meeting to be shredded.

When asked by Sri Ram to explain the purpose of suggesting the shredding of the documents, Ali noted that these were because the audit report would have changes after the meeting.

“Because of the conclusion they were saying, there shouldn’t be two or three versions. So whatever the final version agreed, that should stand,” Ali said, adding that he was not certain if the suggestion was actually carried out.

The trial before High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan resumes tomorrow morning.

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