Hasan refused requests to reopen PAC investigations into 1MDB. Photo by Sam Fong/The Edge
FORMER Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman Datuk Seri Hasan Arifin could find himself under the spotlight when Parliament reconvenes this week, following revelations that he had discussed the contents and outcome of a 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) report with a witness who testified before the committee.
Former 1MDB CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi said during examination-in-chief last week that he had a series of meetings with some PAC members from the Barisan Nasional coalition, outside of the PAC hearings on 1MDB in 2015.
Businessman Low Taek Jho had arranged the meetings, which were held in the residence of Datuk Seri Ahmad Farid Redzuan, who was the person in charge of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s “image branding”.
The meetings, Shahrol said, were to brief him on the kind of questions that would be asked during the hearing and to discuss the likely outcome of the report.
He said his statements to the PAC sought to present the then intense scrutiny on 1MDB as a political conspiracy to weaken Najib’s authority and to downplay the former premier’s role in 1MDB’s decision-making process.
According to Shahrol, former minister Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan was also present at the meetings with other PAC members.
Rahman Dahlan responded in a Facebook post last Thursday maintaining that it was impossible to predetermine the conduct of the PAC hearings as opposition members robustly grilled witnesses during the hearings and only stopped when they had exhausted their questioning. But he did not deny his presence at the meetings.
A bipartisan committee, the PAC consists of lawmakers from both sides of the political divide, and was established as an institution to examine reports from the auditor-general as well as to scrutinise the government’s finances and money allocated by Parliament for public expenditure.
The PAC derives its powers from Section 77(1) of the Malaysian Parliamentary Standing Order. Under this provision, the committee has the power to call witnesses and obtained documents relevant to its investigations, and began its inquiry into 1MDB on May 19, 2015. It concluded the proceedings on Feb 11, 2016, after a nine-months-long investigation that spanned 10 sessions.
It is interesting to note that the PAC had initially agreed to summon Low due to his position as adviser to the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA) — the precursor to 1MDB — but changed its stance when Hasan took over the helm at PAC following Najib’s appointment of the original PAC chairman Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed as the new deputy home minister, forcing him to relinquish his position in the committee.
The current MP for Rompin, Hasan was then nominated by Najib and appointed to the post by former Dewan Rakyat speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia.
Hasan said it was unnecessary to summon Low because even the Royal Malaysia Police could not get hold of the businessman, who had gone into hiding.
Even more surprising, Najib was not called before the committee even though he chaired the board of advisers and held the finance portfolio.
Tabled in Parliament in April 2016, the PAC report did not mention any misappropriation of funds but merely identified “weaknesses” in 1MDB’s capital structure and management.
The PAC recommended that the authorities investigate Shahrol — 1MDB’s former CEO — for mismanagement.
Even after the US Department of Justice (DoJ) filed a watershed civil lawsuit in August 2016 seeking to recover some US$1 billion (RM4.03 billion) in assets that it claimed were embezzled from 1MDB, Hasan refused requests to reopen PAC investigations into 1MDB. He insisted the committee had already tabled the report and that there was no need to revisit the scandal.
In coming up with its report, the PAC relied on the auditor-general’s report on 1MDB in 2016, which was classified under the Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA) by then auditor-general Tan Sri Ambrin Buang.
The report was declassified only last year on May 15, six days after the change in government.
Subsequently, current Auditor-General Tan Sri Dr Madinah Mohamad confirmed that it had been altered, and that orders to tamper with the report first came from Najib. An example of the tampering included the removal of Low’s attendance at a 1MDB board meeting.
Hasan, however, claimed he was unaware of any tampering, and that his committee took Ambrin’s report at face value.