Najib’s trial: Ex-1MDB CEO denies striking deal to avoid being charged; confirms no travel ban now and not sued for negligence

Ida Lim
Datuk Seri Najib Razak is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court July 1, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, July 1 — Former 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi today rejected Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s lawyer’s suggestion that he had purportedly made a deal to testify in court in exchange for not being charged.

Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah bluntly said that Shahrol Azral should have been charged over 1MDB affairs, but the latter disagreed.

Shahrol Azral is testifying as the ninth prosecution witness in Najib’s corruption and money-laundering trial involving more than RM2 billion 1MDB funds, with Shafee having spent weeks questioning him.

Shafee today claimed that Najib had lamented that other individuals should have been charged over the 1MDB matter.

“Just as Mr Yeo was complaining in Singapore, my client also complains he also has been charged for two years now, and many — the likes of you, Amhari and a few others, some of course absconded — have not been charged. Amhari has not been charged, my client complains the same things now,” Shafee told the High Court today during Najib’s 1MDB trial.

Shafee was referring to a Singapore trial where former banker Yeo Jiawei had highlighted how two other individuals involved in the same 1MDB-linked matters had not been charged, as well as Najib’s former aide Datuk Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin who had testified as the eighth prosecution witness against Najib.

Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex June 30, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Shafee went on to suggest that Shahrol Azral should have been one of the first persons to be charged over the 1MDB financial scandal, but Shahrol Azral disagreed.

Shafee: Did you make a deal with the MACC and the prosecution that you will sing like a bird here and you will not be charged?

Shahrol Azral: No.

Shafee went on to suggest that Shahrol Azral had struck a deal to “incriminate” Najib in the 1MDB case to avoid being charged, but Shahrol Azral disagreed.

Asked by Shafee, Shahrol Azral confirmed he had not been sued by 1MDB for negligence.

Among other things, Shafee highlighted excerpts from a February 11, 2016 Public Accounts Committee (PAC) inquiry over 1MDB affairs, including where Kulim-Bandar Baharu MP Datuk Abd Aziz Sheikh Fadzir was quoted as having accused Shahrol Azral of being the “biggest culprit” in the 1MDB affair. Najib was seen nodding his head in apparent agreement while seated in the accused’s dock when Shafee read the excerpt.

Shafee also highlighted the PAC’s April 7, 2016 report regarding 1MDB, where the bipartisan parliamentary watchdog concluded that it believed that Shahrol Azral as the former 1MDB CEO should take responsibility over the weaknesses and blunders involved and also recommended that law enforcement agencies further investigate Shahrol Azral and others involved in 1MDB’s management.

Today, Shahrol Azral confirmed he was called up for investigations by the police either in late 2016 or in 2017 after the PAC’s 2016 report, but said he was neither arrested nor remanded for police investigations or given a police bail.

Shafee: You were just let go like that?

Shahrol Azral: Yes.

Shafee: But they got your passport?

Shahrol Azral: No.

Shahrol Azral explained that the authorities did not seize his passport at that time and he was still allowed to travel in and out of the country, noting that overseas travel restrictions were only placed on him from July 2018 until early 2020.

Shahrol Azral said he had found that his name was no longer in the Immigration Department’s travel blacklist when he checked the department’s website, but also confirmed that he has not travelled since his travel ban was lifted.

Shahrol Azral said he did not make any negotiations with the authorities for the travel ban on him to be lifted, noting that he had only told investigators that the travel restrictions makes it difficult for him to seek for a job abroad. Shahrol Azral is currently not working.

Lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court July 1, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

About DoJ’s papers and Billion Dollar Whale

Shafee today pressed Shahrol Azral on why the latter had not read the US Department of Justice (DoJ) papers on the 1MDB case which had also cited Shahrol Azral’s alleged role, later even describing Shahrol Azral’s decision to not read as akin to an ostrich putting its head in a hole.

Shafee: Why is it? It baffles me, your reputation is at stake.

Shahrol Azral: Because even if I knew what was happening in DoJ, there is no recourse (for me). It’s my way of managing the stress that I go through everyday.

Shafee, who had at times quoted from the DoJ papers when questioning Shahrol Azral, today also cited the Billion Dollar Whale book detailing events in the 1MDB affair and the role of various individuals such as fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho.

Shafee: You have read the Billion Dollar Whale?

Shahrol Azral: No.

Shafee: Why? Because you want to avoid all these ugly stories?

Shahrol Azral: Ah, just not something that I wanted to read.

Shafee: Is it because you know the content?

Shahrol Azral: I roughly know the content, the authors contacted me for a few times to give comments.

But Shahrol Azral said he did not give comments for the book.

Throughout the trial, Shafee had accused Shahrol Azral of having conspired with Low to carry out schemes that caused 1MDB to lose billions of ringgit, but Shahrol Azral has denied this. Shafee had also tried to suggest that Najib as the prime minister and finance minister then could have been hoodwinked or fell for Low’s alleged schemes, but Shahrol Azral had said he could not confirm if this was the case.

The trial before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah will resume on July 15, with Shafee expected to continue cross-examining Shahrol Azral.

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