‘I had impression Najib knew about 1MDB-linked transactions’ – ex-banker

KUALA LUMPUR – A former banker told the High Court here today that he had the impression that the transactions in accounts belonging to Minister of Finance Incorporated (MoF Inc) companies were undertaken with former premier Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s “knowledge”.

Kevin Micheal Swampillai, 59, who worked with BSI Bank Singapore from 2010 to 2016, said this was because the bank’s clients such as 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and its then subsidiary SRC International Sdn Bhd was a company owned by the Ministry of Finance at the time when Najib was Finance Minister.

“Najib was the chairman of the Board of Advisors of 1MDB and furthermore 1MDB was wholly owned by the Ministry of Finance. Apart from that, the fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho or Jho Low’s various intimations to BSI Bank that he was an advisor to Najib which was communicated to me by my superiors and the relationship manager, Yak Yew Chee.

“I also formed the impression (Najib knew about the transactions) as Jho Low’s consistent response that these transactions were highly confidential government-to-government investments and thus, no further information could be made available.

“Apart from that, the size of these transactions were of such a high magnitude and frequency that they had to have some kind of apex approval such as that issued by a highly placed government official such as a Prime Minister,” the 44th prosecution witness said this when reading out his witness statement at Najib’s trial involving the misappropriation of RM2.3 billion from 1MDB funds.

He said the common thing for all these companies which were BSI Bank clients was Jho Low’s presence and that all of them came under Malaysia’s Finance Ministry and used fiduciary funds.

Although there were alternative fiduciary solutions like insurance and trust structures that could be used to layer money flows and hide client identities, Kevin stressed that Jho Low chose to use fiduciary fund structures.

“Actually, I was not aware of Jho Low’s motives for selecting fiduciary funds instead of insurance and trusts back when BSI Bank’s relationship started with Jho Low and those MoF-owned companies in 2011, but now I believe it to be a scheme to give the illusion that 1MDB funds were being invested in genuine investments.

“However, with the benefit of hindsight based on the information that has come out in the public domain since 2015, it is evident to me that Jho Low intended that the fiduciary funds would be better at giving the optical illusion to various stakeholders in Malaysia and elsewhere that the funds belonging to SRC, 1MDB and Aabar were invested in bona fide investment instruments such as investment funds,” he said.

Touching on the transactions involving 1MDB Global Investment Limited (1MDB GIL), the subsidiary of 1MDB, the witness said various employees in BSI bank were put under tremendous pressure by Jho Low to expedite the process of transfering out money from the BSI bank account to the account of the fiduciary fund and then on to the account of the target company.

“In applying the pressure, relevant BSI staff involved in the flow of funds were constantly reminded that we were handling highly sensitive and time-bound transactions involving the sovereign wealth fund belonging to the Government of Malaysia and complacency would not be tolerated by the client (1MDB GIL),” he said.

Kevin also pointed out that his involvement in these transactions was gradually reduced from 2013 with his subordinate Yeo Jiawei taking on a more prominent role on behalf of BSIS.

“Effectively, I had been sidelined and removed from the information flow as Jho Low had started to develop concerns over leaks given the extent of information that started to appear in the media at that time. I was suspected of being a potential source of these leaks and therefore sidelined,” he said.

Najib, 70, is facing four charges of using his position to get bribes totalling RM2.3 billion from 1MDB funds and 21 charges of money laundering.

The hearing before Judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah continues tomorrow. – Bernama