The High Court here today was told that 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) former director and chairman, Tan Sri Mohd Bakke Salleh had instructed not to record a telephone call between him and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak (picture) during a 1MDB-PetroSaudi International Ltd (PSI International) joint-venture (JV) meeting in 2009.
Former 1MDB chief executive officer, Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi said the special meeting of the 1MDB board of directors (BOD) chaired by Mohd Bakke on Sept 26, 2009 was held to decide whether the BOD should proceed with the joint venture between the two companies.
During cross-examination by Najib’s defence lead counsel, Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Shahrol Azral, 49, testified that the meeting was also attended by fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho or Jho Low on his invitation.
“I invited Jho Low to the meeting for him to explain directly to the BOD the essence of PSI International, how it was a government-to-government (G2G) initiative and how it came about. At the very beginning of the meeting, Mohd Bakke received a phone call, which Jho Low had already dialled and passed it to him.
“Upon receiving the phone from Jho Low, Mohd Bakke mouthed the word ‘PM’ to us and left the room. I don’t remember the exact words he said when he came back but essentially, he informed that he spoke to Datuk Seri Najib, and he (Najib) informed him that it was a G2G initiative and could not be delayed or rather, ‘disegerakan’ (speeded up),” he said.
The ninth prosecution witness said when Mohd Bakke told the BOD such information, they regarded it as something that was very significant which led to fewer questions raised by the BOD regarding 1MDB assets evaluation.
“Mohd Bakke then issued a directive for the call not to be recorded in the minutes of the meeting. If I can recall (correctly), I even suggested the meeting be audio-taped but he (Mohd Bakke) disagreed,” he said.
Further pressed by Muhammad Shafee, Shahrol Azral explained that 1MDB proceeded with the 1MDB-PSI JV without confirming the shareholding ratio between the two companies.
“At that time, we already had the indicative evaluation which allowed us to perform a more detailed evaluation afterwards. The key point here is, it was truly a G2G transaction which Datuk Seri Najib really wanted for it to happen and the partnership with PetroSaudi was of paramount importance.
“The shareholding was already 60:40. But the rationale was that our 40 per cent would be diluted should their valuation be higher. We went ahead with it on the basis that this was a G2G initiative and we would be able to renegotiate after that,” he said.
Shahrol Azral said the BOD proceeded on the basis that this was a friendly party that had been endorsed by Najib.
Earlier, when queried by the counsel, the witness agreed he did not verify the track record of PSI International before presenting the information on the energy company to the BOD.
Shahrol Azral also testified that PSI International claimed to have projects in Europe, Latin America and Central Asia based on the company’s kit which PSI provided, but he never attempted to get substantive proof himself.
“I didn’t see any annual report (of the company), we relied heavily on the information provided by PSI,” he said.
The prosecution key witness also did not rule out the possibility that Najib could have been played out by Jho Low, whom he described as the “conductor of an orchestra”.
“Honestly, it’s difficult for me to comment from my limited sphere of what I know. The manipulation was done with a very good disguise of ‘this is for the good of the country, for the good of the prime minister’ but I don’t know what the prime minister then knew, so it is very difficult for me to comment,” he said.
Najib, 66, faces four charges of using his position to obtain bribes totalling RM2.3 billion from 1MDB funds and 21 charges of money laundering involving the same amount.
The hearing before Judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah continues tomorrow.