by RAHIMI YUNUS/ pic by ARIF KARTONO
FUGITIVE businessman Jho Low had direct access to Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak over matters related to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), a key witness in Najib’s trial revealed at the High Court yesterday.
Jho Low, whose real name is Low Taek Jho, is said to be instrumental in devising the world’s biggest financial larceny with an estimated US$4 billion (RM16.72 billion) stolen from the fund and also claimed to be very close to Najib.
Former 1MDB CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi said Jho Low and Najib were so close that the former was familiar with Najib’s official residence.
“Can you tell from your own observation how was the relationship like between Jho Low and the accused?” lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram asked.
“They were very close. One of the observations was when Jho (Low) took me to the Seri Satria in Putrajaya. Najib was already the prime minister (PM), but he had not moved out of the DPM’s residence yet.
“Jho took me straight into the gate and waived to the guard. He demonstrated familiarity with the entrance and layout of the residence. The staff demonstrated familiarity too. He asked for Milo Ais,” Shahrol Azral said at the Kuala Lumpur High Court yesterday.
Shahrol Azral said the meeting was to introduce Mubadala Oil & Gas CEO Maurizio La Noce to Najib, although he said discussion had already begun between the two.
The ninth prosecution’s witness also recalled that during a Terengganu Investment Authority Bhd (TIA) board meeting in September 2009, Jho Low passed his phone to Tan Sri Mohd Bakke Salleh, who later said it was the PM on the line.
TIA was a predecessor of 1MDB, incorporated on Feb 27, 2009, with a start-up capital of RM2.
Shahrol Azral said Najib had given Jho Low the mandate to plan and arrange TIA’s operations.
The Jho Low-Najib relationship has become a contentious issue between the prosecutor and defence team in Najib’s corruption and money laundering trial.
The prosecutor wants to prove that Najib and Jho Low had acted as one to embezzle 1MDB funds.
The defence, however, repeatedly stressed that the Pekan MP had been misled by Jho Low in an intricate web of conspiracy.
Lead defence counsel Tan Sri Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah argued that any references to Jho Low, including various directives said to be from him, were hearsay. On the 11th day of the trial yesterday, Shahrol Azral also said Jho Low had asked him to expedite the workings related to the issuance of the RM5 billion government-guaranteed bond by TIA.
TIA planned to raise RM11 billion, RM5 billion through a government-guaranteed bond and another RM6 billion by the securitisation of Terengganu state’s oil royalties.
Shahrol Azral said the RM5 billion Islamic medium-term note programme, which has a 30-year tenure, was targeted to start by the end of May 2009.
The loan was planned to be used to develop Pulau Bidong, Terengganu, with Mubadala.
“The target was very aggressive, about a month. The Finance Ministry (MoF) was not comfortable with the short timeline,” he said.
Shahrol Azral added that Jho Low asked him to push the MoF for the bond, while he would work from top-down.
“What did you understand by top-down?” Sri Ram asked, in which Shahrol Azral said: “Directing from the finance minister himself.”