KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 28 — Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz today stressed that AmBank Group’s managing director did not tell her in 2011 that then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak was expecting a US$100 million donation from Saudi Arabia into his newly-opened AmBank account.
Zeti said this while testifying as the 46th prosecution witness in Najib’s trial, where RM2.28 billion of 1Malaysia Development Berhad’s (1MDB) funds were alleged to have been misappropriated and entered Najib’s personal bank accounts at AmBank.
Zeti today confirmed that AmBank Group’s then managing director Cheah Tek Kuang had on January 28, 2011 paid her a courtesy visit to inform her that Najib had opened a bank account with AmBank, and said that Najib’s bank account had been opened “two weeks earlier” before this courtesy visit.
Zeti agreed with Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah’s suggestion that a finance minister or even the prime minister can open a bank account in his personal name, agreeing with Shafee that there is “nothing wrong” with this but that banks have to be alerted as such individuals are politically exposed persons.
Shafee: Now, under normal circumstances, if the prime minister or the minister of finance wants to open a bank account, personal account, Mr Cheah Tek Kuang does not have to come and see you and say Datuk Seri Najib came and opened a bank account with us?
Zeti: That is correct.
Asked if she knew why Cheah came to pay her a courtesy call to inform her about Najib’s account opening, Zeti later said: “He didn’t have to inform me, he just came, when the request was made for the appointment, it was a courtesy call. I did not know what the subject matter of the visit was.”
Confirming that she was aware that CIMB was then headed by Najib’s brother and that the government has a stake in bigger banks such as CIMB and Maybank, Zeti said she did not wonder or ask Cheah why Najib chose to open his account in AmBank.
Asked by Shafee if Cheah had said he was informed by Najib that “some donations were expected to be received” in the new AmBank account, Zeti said: “He did not mention that.”
Zeti said that Cheah had informed her that Najib’s account would be given a “code” name (subsequently informed to BNM as “AmPrivate Banking-MR” for reporting to BNM’s Ringgit Operations Monitoring System (ROMS) which captures both overseas transactions of money going in and out of bank accounts, and that Cheah did not mention anything else in that January 2011 meeting.
When Shafee asked if it had occurred to her to find out why the prime minister and finance minister has a personal account with a code name in the ROMS for him to deal with transactions with overseas individuals or entities, Zeti said it would be the function of financial institutions to do the due diligence as the central bank never conducts due diligence on individual personal accounts.
Zeti, who had said that all bank accounts have to be opened under the account holder’s name in their identity cards, later said she did not find it odd that a code name was given for Najib’s account.
She also said the fact that a code was wanted for Najib’s account “did not seem unusual” as this happened during the time when there were several cases of banking staff having divulged information on personal bank accounts.
She confirmed she has no comment about the “AmPrivate Banking-MR” code and agreed that it was AmBank who had allocated this code for Najib’s personal account.
When Zeti confirmed she had not asked Cheah why Najib was having a coded account for the ROMS reporting system, Shafee suggested that this was because Cheah had told her that “there’s going to be donation from the Saudi account to Datuk Seri Najib”, but Zeti replied that Cheah did not tell her this.
When Shafee suggested that Cheah also told Zeti that “Datuk Seri Najib was going to receive initially a US$100 million as donation from Saudi Arabia”, Zeti replied: “He did not.”
Shafee continued to suggest that Cheah informed Zeti about the purported expected donation since it was a gift and as Najib is a politically exposed person, also claiming that Cheah did not inform Zeti about this out of courtesy alone but as he thought this is part of his duty in the commercial bank to inform the BNM governor as part of his due diligence.
But Zeti firmly said that Cheah had not told her about the expected “donation” into Najib’s account.
Zeti confirmed that Cheah was in different divisions when they were both students in Universiti Malaya in the same year or same batch, and said she was not familiar with Cheah.
Zeti also said it was normal for her as BNM governor to give appointments to CEOs of banks who want to come and pay courtesy calls.
Zeti’s testimony contradicts Cheah’s previous testimony as the 39th prosecution witness in the same 1MDB trial, where the latter said he had told Zeti about the purported incoming donation.
Cheah had previously on October 4, 2022, told the High Court that he had followed AmBank’s chairman’s instruction and went to Najib’s house in early 2011 to help the latter with the bank account opening documents, where Najib claimed that there will be US$100 million donation coming in from Saudi Arabia government for him for Islamic activities.
Najib’s lawyers have been trying to use four letters by a purported Saudi prince to claim that the RM2.28 billion that entered his personal bank accounts were all donations.
Najib’s 1MDB trial before judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes tomorrow.