Low’s name kept under wraps to protect PM, says Shahrol Azral

by BERNAMA/ pic by BERNAMA

FORMER 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi testified at the Kuala Lumpur High Court yesterday that he was told to keep fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho or Jho Low’s name out of 1MDB affairs in 2011 to protect the then Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak.

In his previous testimony last year, Shahrol Azral, 50, said Jho Low’s name had to be kept under wraps during board meetings as there were people within Umno who were unhappy with his direct access to Najib.

During cross-examination by Najib’s lawyer Wan Aizuddin Wan Mohammed, the ninth prosecution witness, however, disagreed to a suggestion that he was concealing Jho Low’s name because he was colluding with him (Jho Low) to get the remuneration from investment management firm, Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

The said remuneration was from 1MDB plan to acquire power plant operator Tanjong Energy Holdings Sdn Bhd for RM10.6 billion and Goldman Sachs acted as the financial advisor to 1MBD.

In February 2012, Goldman was appointed to represent 1MDB in the deal with a 0.5% fee from the bid price if the acquisition was successful.

Shahrol Azral admitted that Jho Low was responsible for proposing Goldman for the positions of “bookrunner, underwriter and arranger” for the acquisition’s funding process apart from being its official financial advisor.

“As I recall, Jho Low said why don’t we get Goldman to do everything relating to the funding,” he said.

The witness explained that he had to sign the confirmation letter before the board meeting as they were going to present to the board (about Tanjong Energy acquisition) which needed to be done in order for Goldman to be present.

The due diligence exercise to acquire Tanjong Energy has been done since December 2011 and it was led by 1MDB investment team at that time, Vincent Koh, together with 1MDB general counsel, Jasmine Loo and Goldman itself.

“They worked very hard, even on public holidays. It’s not uncommon that advisors or banks who are going to sign or to advise come on board to help before they sign on to become advisors, like what happened with Goldman. Although they signed on to be advisors in February, they already began their work in December 2011,” he said.

Based on the document read out in court, the submission to acquire Tanjong Energy was made on Feb 10, 2012, two days after Goldman pitched the bid to 1MDB board of directors (BoD).

When asked whether Jho Low was a broker for Goldman, Shahrol Azral said he saw Jho Low as a facilitator instead as he had contacts with all the relevant stakeholders including the PM.

To another question posed by Wan Aizuddin, Shahrol Azral admitted that the 1MDB BoD was not informed of the RM2.1 billion reduction in the price of the acquisition, which meant the sovereign wealth fund would only have to pay around RM8.5 billion.

“The board was only informed that the price of the acquisition would be up to RM10.6 billion and possibly lower,” he said.

Towards the end of yesterday proceedings, Najib lead counsel Tan Sri Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah made an application before Justice Collin Lawrence Sequerah (picture) for Najib to attend the Parliament sitting as his client is slotted to speak today as the Pekan MP.

Muhammad Shafee explained that, previously, MPs have been excused from court during trials when they were the accused.

“Preventing an MP from going to attend to his duty can be subject to contempt of Parliament,” he said.

In response to this, Justice Sequerah replied: “Are you saying I will be held in contempt of Parliament if I don’t allow this?”

Muhammad Shafee: My client has decided to give his speech after 2pm, may I suggest for the court to carry on from 9.30am to 1.30pm tomorrow?

Sequerah: I understand that he has his duty, but this court has its duty too. I say that the trial continues tomorrow from 9.30am to 4.30pm.

The proceedings was adjourned to today.