39th indictment for Najib, 1st criminal charge for Arul Kanda

By RAHIMI YUNUS / Pic By MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak was charged yesterday with the tampering of the 1Malaysia Development Bhd’s (1MDB) final audit report, the 39th indictment faced by the former prime minister (PM) who is already saddled with charges of money laundering, criminal breach of trust and abuse of power.

1MDB ex-president Arul Kanda Kandasamy, a popular face at the state-owned fund, was also indicted at a separate court in Kuala Kumpur to a charge of abetting Najib to tamper the audit report.

Najib was accused of instructing changes to the 1MDB’s final audit report, while it was being prepared before it was finalised and presented to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2016.

Prosecutors are charging Najib of using his position as the PM to gain gratification in a form of protection from a civil or criminal disciplinary action related to 1MDB by instructing amendments to the audit report.

The Pekan MP had allegedly committed the offence between Feb 22 and 26, 2016, at the PM’s Department complex in Putrajaya. Najib and Arul Kanda pleaded not guilty to their respective charges.

Najib and Arul Kanda could face a maximum 20-year jail term and a fine of no less than five times the amount of gratification (if quantifiable) or RM10,000, whichever is higher, if found guilty under Section 24(1) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act 2009.

With the latest indictment, the former PM (centre) has forked out a massive RM6m in release bonds (Pic by Muhd Amin Naharul/TMR)

Judge Azura Alwi, who presided over Najib’s case, set bail at RM500,000 with one surety to be paid in full yesterday. Judge Rozina Ayob also set a similar bail amount for Arul Kanda.

Both Najib and Arul Kanda paid their respective bail and were released by the courts. It is believed Arul Kanda’s close relative posted the bail for his release.

With the latest indictment, the former PM has forked out a massive RM6 million in release bonds.

This is the first time Arul Kanda has been charged with crimes related to the 1MDB scandal. Arul Kanda was appointed to helm the fund in January 2015.

Arul Kanda, 42, had always denied any wrongdoings in the 1MDB’s financials and stressed that the fund had been widely investigated.

He also went on a tour prior to the 14th General Election to explain about the 1MDB’s financial status and allegations against the fund.

Arul Kanda was brought to the court yesterday, after spending the night at the MACC lock-up in Putrajaya.

The judges fixed Jan 4, 2019, for the case mentions for both Najib and Arul Kanda.

The prosecution team was led by former Federal Court Judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, while Najib was represented by lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah. Datuk N Sivananthan represented Arul Kanda.

Meanwhile, Muhammad Shafee had argued the notion of “tampering” as the charge indicated that the instruction for the amendments was for the draft of the final audit report, instead of the finalised audit report itself. 

“Tampering can only happen in the final audit report. That is tampered,” he said, adding that the tampering could not happen when the audit report was still in the drafting stage.

Arul Kanda was sacked from 1MDB on June 28, 2018, on grounds of dereliction of duties, two days earlier from his contract that was supposed to expire on June 30, after an extension of six months from December 2017.

On April 7, 2016, the PAC, which was then chaired by Datuk Hasan Arifin, tabled the 1MDB report in the  Dewan Rakyat, which subsequently triggered the resignations of 1MDB board of directors.

The PAC findings, among others, highlighted 1MDB’s increasing debt every year since 2009, constraints and weaknesses by the management led by former 1MDB CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim and its subsidiaries, and assets such as Tun Razak Exchange, Bandar Malaysia, Tanah Air Itam and Tanah Pulau Indah should be transferred to the Ministry of Finance, supervised and managed properly as a way to fix the sovereign state fund.

The 1MDB audit report was declassified on May 15 this year.