‘Clips released to stop officials from engaging in criminal activity’

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on March 6, 2020.

Latheefa (centre) arriving at the Kuala Lumpur High Court yesterday. (Photo by Patrick Goh)

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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief commissioner Latheefa Koya said she released audio recordings allegedly related the dealings of 1Malaysian Development Bhd (1MDB) and its former subsidiary SRC International Sdn Bhd, involving former premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak, so that officials from the MACC, Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Prime Minister’s Office would never again be involved in criminal activity.

In a tense session of the SRC International case yesterday, Latheefa testified as a defence witness to ascertain the admissibility of the recordings in court.

Lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah had zeroed in on the fact that Latheefa had released the recordings to the public instead of investigating them privately.

Muhammad Shafee: What did you hope to get from the public?

Latheefa: It’s my duty to share with the public. This is to show that never again can the attorney-general, or the Prime Minister’s Office or [the] MACC be involved in criminal activity by forging documents and omitting information.

The large number of Najib’s supporters in the public gallery of the courtroom started to laugh and scoff at Latheefa’s response.

The supporters were seen whispering loudly and chattering constantly while Latheefa was giving her testimony.

They burst into raucous laughter again when Muhammad Shafee commented that her powers as MACC chief were as big as the courtroom.

Latheefa also told the court that she had not considered investigating the clips privately instead of releasing them to the public as this had been done before.

Muhammad Shafee: Did you consider doing this in secret?

Latheefa: I don’t think it’s a secret when it involves public interest. This is not the first time … for example, if a team stumbles upon [information pertaining to] millions of ringgit, they would share the info (information) with the public.

Muhammad Shafee: Give me one example.

Latheefa: The Sabah watergate scandal where the monies were found in Sabah. They named the Sabah director [who] was involved.

Latheefa was referring to the MACC’s investigations into alleged corruption at the Sabah Water Department that resulted in the seizure of over RM100 million in cash, several luxury handbags, jewellery, watches and vehicles.

Muhammad Shafee also grilled Latheefa on the interceptions of the recordings and how they were extracted.

The MACC chief admitted that the graft agency, police, army and Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) have the authority to tap recordings of individuals.

Latheefa also said that she could not confirm that the recordings were the result of intercepting communications as the investigations were still ongoing.

Earlier, Latheefa related how the recordings had surfaced. She said MACC deputy commissioner Datuk Azam Baki had informed her on Jan 3 this year — five days prior to the release of the clips at a press conference — that he had received a package which contained nine thumb drives, which he got from his special officer.

The parcel also contained a note describing the contents of each of the nine thumb drives.

She said that although investigations were ongoing, she released the recordings to the public because the voices in the recordings were easily discernible and the topics of discussion were also relevant to the individuals.

“We also cross-checked the topics of conversation with the dates of SRC, 1MDB and [the dates] matched with the dates these recordings took place,” she said.

“Based on [the] content, we can confirm [the recordings’] authenticity,” Latheefa said when questioned by Muhammad Shafee.

Latheefa added that the MACC had also handed over the recordings to the police in order to further authenticate them. According to her, the commission’s investigations into the clips are still ongoing.

On Jan 8, the MACC released nine clips of telephone conversation recordings revolving around Najib when he was sorting out the issues surrounding the investigation into 1MDB in 2016.

Najib faces seven charges of misappropriating RM42 million of funds belonging to SRC International.

Latheefa will continue testifying on Monday when the trial resumes before Justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali.