Najib cannot be alerted on ‘suspicious’ transactions, says BNM official

by RAHIMI YUNUS / pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

MALAYSIAN banks do not need to alert an account owner, if they find suspicious transactions in a specific account, a Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) official told the ongoing trial of former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak (picture) in relation to SRC International Sdn Bhd.

In disagreement with the defence’s argument that Najib should have been alerted of the dubious transactions, Ahmad Farhan Sharifuddin, a manager at BNM testified that reporting institutions such as banks are prohibited to alert the account holder on any suspicious transaction.

He said such alerts are not allowed to avoid tipping off, as provided under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 (AMLATFA).

On the 15th day of the trial, Ahmad Farhan returned to the witness stand and stood his ground when Najib’s defence counsel pushed him to agree that AmBank Group was obligated to notify Najib about the suspicious transactions. He earlier appeared on the fourth day of the trial as prosecution witness.

Lead defence counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah: “Would you agree if AmBank had done their job and submitted suspicious transaction report (STR) to BNM, the account holder would have been alerted to protect himself?”

Ahmad Farhan: “There is a specific provision under the AMLATFA that prevents tipping off. Reporting institutions only submit STR and are not allowed to disclose (it) to the person. Your question on whether Najib should be alerted, I would have to disagree because that was tantamount to tipping off.”

Muhammad Shafee: “If AmBank had reported STR transaction by transaction, then there is a possibility that BNM in the investigation or any of the enforcement agencies like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission or the police would have to call the account holder to explain the suspicious transactions. That is not tipping off, that is investigating.”

Ahmad Farhan: “I have no comment. That one is an inference question.”

The cross-examination was continued by defence lawyer Harvinderjit Singh — again over the same point.

Tired of the scenario, deputy public prosecutor Datuk V Sithambaram interjected and said: “How many times do you want to ask the same questions?”

Earlier, the defence team highlighted the fact that AmBank was fined by the central bank in November 2015 on its reporting negligence involving Najib’s accounts with the bank.

During previous proceedings, the defence lawyers said they would establish elements of “rouge bankers” and that Najib was not in the loop and is a victim of fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, and co-conspirators.

The defence said correspondence involved three AmBank relationship managers namely Joanna Yu Jing Ping, Krystle Yap and Daniel Lee; with 1Malaysia Development Bhd, Jho Low, former SRC CEO Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil and a few others are key to their case.

Muhammad Shafee also argued yesterday over the integrity of the extracted data from Yu’s and Yap’s confiscated handphones, as Ahmad Farhan testified that he was not initially aware of the particular items seized and those were not necessary for his investigation.

The court allowed in 31st prosecution witness Halijah Abdul Wahab, who testified on various transactions involving Putra Perdana Construction Sdn Bhd, Putra Perdana Development Sdn Bhd and Permai Binaraya Sdn Bhd.

The assistant branch manager at Malayan Banking Bhd Kuala Lumpur main branch testified, among others, on RM27 million credited by Permai Binaraya into one of Najib’s accounts at AmBank on July 8, 2014.

Other transactions verified by Halijah included a RM140 million (Dec 12, 2014) transfer by Putra Perdana Construction into SRC’s account.