No due diligence conducted on Tan Sri Ong as he was appointed by Najib – Witness

by BERNAMA / pic by BERNAMA

Former 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) chief executive officer told the High Court here today the 1MBD board of directors (BOD) did not do any background check on Tan Sri Ong Gim Huat, who is one of the independent directors, as he was appointed by Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi (picture), 50, said Ong’s name was given by fugitive businesman, Low Taek Jho or Jho Low,  but the appointment of directors could be made by Najib as the sole shareholder of 1MDB.

1MDB is a strategic development company which is wholly owned by the Minister of Finance Incorporated and Najib was the Finance Minister then. 

“Throughout my tenure as the CEO from 2009 to 2013, Tan Sri Ong never showed me any cause to believe that he is any other than looking after the interest of the company.

“The BOD is responsible to make the right decision, but the prerogative to appoint is up to Datuk Seri Najib. I did not perform any due diligence because Datuk Seri wanted him,” he said.

The ninth prosecution witness said this during cross-examination by counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, representing the former premier, who is facing corruption and money laundering charges involving RM2.3 billion in 1MDB funds.

The issue on Ong was raised by Muhammad Shafee, who pointed out a news report in 2015 that said Ong was a friend and long-term business partner of Jho Low’s father. 

Pressed by the counsel, Shahrol Azral said he was unaware of Ong’s relationship with Jho Low’s father, Tan Sri Larry Low.

Muhammad Shafee: If you had personally asked someone to check on Ong’s background, you would have discovered that Ong is not so independent after all. In fact he is a partisan. As a matter of fact, this fact (Ong is a friend and business partner of Jho Low’s father) establishes that Ong could not have been an independent director. I’m just putting it to you.

Shahrol Azral: I have no comment. I don’t feel I am competent to judge.

The witness also disagreed to a suggestion by Muhammad Shafee that he was reluctant to provide the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) with documents pertaining to 1MDB and PetroSaudi International (PSI International) joint-venture (JV) as it would uncover shams about the deal.

“If I remember,  I was pushing for it (the documents to be provided to PAC) and that we should try to comply as much as possible, but the JV company is no longer controlled by us.

“My concern about PAC’s request is when the opposition got hold of a certain document, it would become a matter of public record…and they would have picked and chosen what to give the media,” said Shahrol Azral.

Muhammad Shafee: I’m putting it to you, if these documents were made available at the time, it would expose you, together with Jho Low, Jasmine Loo, Casey Tang, Patrick Mahoney and Tarek Obaid as conspirators to embezzle billions of dollars from 1MDB?

Shahrol Azral: I disagree.

Muhammad Shafee: I put to you, that is the sole reason why you were worried because you realised this composition of PAC members are no fools and they will uncover this sham?

Shahrol Azral: I disagree.

Muhammad Shafee also referred the witness to the PAC report regarding the limitation and governance made by 1MDB BOD.

Muhammad Shafee: This paragraph reads – Former CEO of 1MDB Mr Shahrol Azral needs to take responsibility for the blunders (regarding 1MDB affairs). Have you read this before?

Shahrol Azral: I have not gone through it in detail.

Muhammad Shafee: You know they weren’t being nice to you?

Shahrol Azral: They are making me a scapegoat.

Najib, 67, faces four charges of abusing his position to obtain gratification totalling RM2.3bil in 1MDB funds and 21 counts of money laundering involving the same money.

The trial before Justice Collin Lawrence Sequerah continues tomorrow.