Funds to keep tab of Chinese media, financing news portal

by RAHIMI YUNUS / pic by BERNAMA

Chinese media monitoring, financing a news portal and promoting “Ah Jib Gor” Facebook were some of the expenses borne using money linked to SRC International Sdn Bhd.

The prosecutors yesterday called more witnesses to testify how the RM42 million allegedly funnelled from SRC and related companies was spent by former Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak.

Najib, who is facing seven charges including money laundering and criminal breach of trust, heard testimony from the 14th witness Rita Sim Sai Hoon who claimed she received about RM300,000 to monitor news reports by Chinese media outlets.

Sim who is the co-founder and director of Centre For Strategic Engagement Sdn Bhd (CENSE), told the High Court that six Chinese languagebased publications were monitored — Sin Chew Daily, Nanyang Siang Pau, China Press, Guang Ming Daily, Kwong Wah Yit Poh and Oriental Daily.

The media monitoring was to determine the political implications from the news reports related to the Chinese community who had largely rejected Barisan Nasional during the 13th General Election.

Sim said the company was engaged by the late Tan Sri Dr Jamaludin Jarjis on behalf of the then-PM’s media office to “figure out” issues and concerns of the Chinese community, who was viewed at the material time as “anti-government”.

CENSE was formed in 2010 and focused on conducting public policy research and survey, as well as providing Chinese media monitoring services.

“I met Jamaluddin at the PM’s Office (PMO). A media monitoring project like this usually involves eight to 10 people,” Sim said at the Najib’s trial yesterday.

Sim who was a former Sin Chew Media Corp Bhd ED, said CENSE invoiced the PM’s media office monthly at around RM150,000 each time.

Meanwhile, 16th witness, Onn Hafiz Ghazi, a shareholder in Vital Spire Sdn Bhd said a cheque payment of RM240,000 was issued to the consultancy firm on Jan 30, 2015, to run the now-defunct malaysiandigest.com news portal.

“On the orders of Najib. I met him alone at the PMO at that time. I received the cheque from him. He signed the cheque in front of me,” said Onn Hafiz.

Onn Hafiz said the news website was created to provide “alternative contents” and to combat “fake news”.

“We provided balanced news to the general public. I would not say it is a political blog. But, it covers local and international news on various topics including politics,” he said.

The prosecution’s 17th witness Datuk Wong Nai Chee, a former political secretary to Najib, testified about RM238,914 cheque payment was issued to Lim Soon Peng on Feb 12, 2015.

Wong said the payments to Lim were meant for two parties — AD Network, the administrator of Ah Jib Gor Facebook account; and Akademi Kewartawanan dan Informasi Taima which owns the publication of Chinese Weekly.

In Lim’s case, Wong said Lim was the “grassroots person” for the PM to engage and understand the Chinese community.

Wong, who acted as a middle man between the PMO and Lim, said the Ah Jib Gor Facebook account was for the former PM to have an online presence to the Chinese communities and gain feedback.

For Chinese Weekly, Wong said the media organisation comprises “objective writers” who write on government policies in a correct manner.

Wong recognised Lim as Tan Sri Lim Soon Peng and identified him as a businessman.

The Court also heard yesterday testimonies by the prosecution’s 13th witness, Ahmad Sahak, the executive secretary to the Penang Umno liaison, over RM1 million received by the state Umno on Feb 26, 2015.

The prosecution also called in the 15th witness Datuk Seri Marcus Mojigoh and he testified on RM1 million cheques issued by Najib to United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) on Feb 13, 2015.

Upko was a former Barisan Nasional component party and Mojigoh was Upko deputy president and chief treasure at the material time.

The Court has heard in an earlier court proceeding that 17 cheques were issued by Najib and SRC between December 2014 and March 2015, for amounts ranging from RM13,800 to RM20 million.

The evidence showed that SRC had issued a cheque of RM20 million and another cheque of more than RM103,000 to Ihsan Perdana Sdn Bhd.

Other cheques were issued to, among others, legal firm Messrs Hafarizam Wan & Aisha Mubarak (RM3.5 million), Asmadi Abu Talib (RM50,000) and trustees of Rumah Penyayang Tun Abdul Razak (RM400,000).

Ihsan Perdana and Gandingan Mentari Sdn Bhd were alleged to be the vehicles used to channel the RM42 million funds into Najib’s personal accounts.