‘Arab donations’ to be a point of contention in Najib’s 1MDB trial

Prosecution aims to prove Najib’s ‘donations’ claim is a sham

by RAHIMI YUNUS/ pic by BERNAMA

THE so-called donations by an Arab prince are set to be a point of contention in Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak’s (picture) 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) trial as the prosecution wants to prove that it was a sham and thus nullify the long-standing claim made by the former prime minister (PM).

At the height of the 1MDB exposé in 2018, Najib revealed several documents including a copy of a letter purportedly from Prince Abdulaziz Al Saud, who allegedly said Saudi Arabia would give donations of hundreds of millions in 2011.

Other documents unveiled were SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) transactions related to parts of the donations and letters from the late King Abdullah Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Najib claimed the monarch was very worried that the Arab Spring uprisings at the material time may spread to other Muslim countries and the King wanted to preserve stability.

The prosecution, led by former Federal Court Judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, seeks to prove that Najib and fugitive businessman Jho Low, whose real name is Low Taek Jho, produced documents to pretend a donation from an Arab prince.

“After the 1MDB scandal broke in early July 2015, the accused with his mirror image Jho Low took steps to cover his tracks. Sham documents were produced to pretend a donation from an Arab prince. Among them were letters and four cheques each for a sum of US$25 million (RM105 million) purportedly written out by a person said to be the Arab donor. But these cheques were never meant to be encashed and were never cashed,” Sri Ram said in his opening statement last week.

Sri Ram, whose appointment as deputy public prosecutor is being challenged by the defence, described Najib as the plenipotentiary of 1MDB and Jho Low was the former’s alter ego.

The defence is set to counter the accusation, asserting that Jho Low was the perpetrator behind the 1MDB scandal and Najib was misled.

“Whatever is the money, my client believed honestly that it came from the Saudi king because he met the Saudi king and there was that promise of US$1 billion. Money did come into his account. Whether the documents were fabricated or not, you prove it. Even if you prove it, you have to prove that I (Najib) knew they were fabricated,” lead defence counsel Tan Sri Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah told reporters outside the court last week.

Jho Low, who had been charged in absentia over 1MDB dealings, fled the country in 2015, according to witness testimony of the fund’s former subsidiary SRC International Sdn Bhd trial recently.

The prosecution will detail the four stages of the larceny — PetroSaudi International Ltd (PSI), dubious acquisitions by 1MDB, a purported joint venture (JV) between 1MDB and Aabar Investments PJS Ltd, and Aabar options by 1MDB linked to International Petroleum Investment Co or IPIC, all devised between 2009 and 2014.

In the first phase, 1MDB borrowed US$1 billion purportedly to invest in a JV company called 1MDB Petro Saudi Ltd.

However, the so-called JV agreement was not entered into with PSI, but with a company called Petro Saudi Holdings (Cayman) Ltd and it was Tarek Obaid, PSI co-founder and CEO, who executed the agreement on behalf of PetroSaudi Holdings.

It was called Project Aria.

The second phase concerns the acquisition of two independent power producers — Tanjong Energy Holdings Sdn Bhd and Mastika Lagenda Sdn Bhd — where multibillion funds raised to finance the takeovers were siphoned into non-related accounts.

The third phase is about another purported JV between 1MDB and Aabar called Abu Dhabi Malaysia Investment Co.

The JV was to develop the Tun Razak Exchange in Kuala Lumpur, but based on the evidence that the prosecution will adduce, the so-called JV never took off and there was no investment.

The fourth phase is on two 1MDB loans obtained through its subsidiary 1MDB Energy Holdings Ltd, totalling US$1.22 billion from Deutsche Bank Singapore.

Parts of the money were given to Aabar in 2012 as alleged part consideration for IPIC’s guarantee for the notes that raised US$3.5 billion forming part of the second phase.

Najib was charged with 21 counts of money laundering involving RM4.3 billion (received and transferred) and four counts of corruption involving RM2.3 billion, in relation to 1MDB funds.

The Pekan MP was the chairman of 1MDB’s board of advisors while being the PM and finance minister at the material time.