“I’m not rescuing the witness but stopping an irrelevant question” – Sri Ram


KUALA LUMPUR — Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram today told the High Court here that he was not rescuing former 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) non-executive director Tan Sri Ismee Ismail but merely stopping an irrelevant question being posed to the 13th prosecution witness. 

The lead prosecutor in Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s trial over misappropriation of RM2.3 billion in funds from 1MDB, told this before Judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah after the former premier’s lead counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah contended that the prosecution was trying to “rescue” Ismee.

The heated argument started when Muhammad Shafee was questioning Ismee, 58, about an alleged fake agreement related to the conversion of the sovereign wealth fund’s monies into Murabahah notes.

According to a joint venture between 1MDB-PetroSaudi International Limited, the two companies agreed to convert 40 per cent of 1MDB’s stake in the joint venture at US$1 billion, into an Islamic loan to the same joint venture. 

The deal saw 1MDB agreeing to sell off the 40 per cent share to the joint venture company, by giving, on paper, the Islamic loan via Murabahah notes to the joint venture company at a value of US$1.2 billion.

With the conversion to the Murabahah notes, the joint venture company would on paper owe US$1.2 billion to 1MDB, effectively giving 1MDB a paper profit of US$200 million after accounting for the initial US$1 billion.

During proceedings, Sri Ram raised objections to the line of questioning by the senior lawyer which was linked to the backdating of the alleged wrongful Murabahah agreement.

At this juncture, judge Sequerah interjected that it was unfair to try to get the witness to answer when the issue was based on documentation.

However, Muhammad Shafee argued that Ismee was capable of answering his questions and did not need to be “rescued” by anyone.

“Nobody needs to rescue this witness because he’s done marvellously well,” said Muhammad Shafee.

To this, Sri Ram replied: “I’m not rescuing this witness, I’m stopping an irrelevant question.”

Muhammad Shafee then asked: “Is this question irrelevant?”

The judge then said the question asked was a matter for the submissions stage, noting that Muhammad Shafee was asking Ismee to make inferences when the witness may or may not know about the matter.

But the counsel insisted that a witness would be able to answer based on the basic facts given. The judge then said: “For what it’s worth, let him answer”.

During today’s proceedings, the witness also testified that the joint venture of 1MDB-PetroSaudi International Limited as well as 1MDB acquiring independent power producers (IPPs) Tanjong Energy Holdings Sdn Bhd and Mastika Lagenda Sdn Bhd, was in line with the interest of the Malaysian government.

Najib, 68, is facing 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 trial continues on April 4.