In The Dock: Rosmah an active participant in her solar graft trial

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 28, 2020 - January 10, 2021.
The crux of the case centred on Rosmah’s purported influence over the handling of government contract negotiations that did not concern her role as wife of the prime minister. (Photo by Mohd Izwan Mohd Nazam/The Edge)

The crux of the case centred on Rosmah’s purported influence over the handling of government contract negotiations that did not concern her role as wife of the prime minister. (Photo by Mohd Izwan Mohd Nazam/The Edge)

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SITTING in the accused dock with a pen and notepad at her side at all times, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor frequently jotted down notes, sometimes passing them down to her lawyers at the front of the court during her solar graft trial. On certain occasions, upon receiving her notes, the tone and direction of her lawyers’ line of questioning would take a different tack.

Although Rosmah’s active participation may be seen as lending support to her reputation of being authoritative and commanding despite not occupying an official position, the wife of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak “wielded considerable influence by reason of her overbearing nature”, the prosecution said in its opening statement. She has a lot to lose if found guilty.

Rosmah, 69, is charged with soliciting RM187.5 million from Jepak Holdings Sdn Bhd between 2016 and 2017 to help the firm secure a RM1.25 billion project to supply solar hybrid power systems to 369 rural schools in Sarawak.

She is also charged with receiving cash amounting to RM6.5 million to ensure Jepak secured the contract. She faces a maximum 20 years’ jail and a fine of not less than five times the amount of the gratification if convicted.

High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan has set Dec 28 for written submissions to be filed by the defence, while replies by the prosecution are required to be submitted by Jan 4, 2021. The next hearing date is Feb 10, 2021.

The trial commenced in early February with 23 witnesses called by the prosecution to testify over the course of 33 days. Led by senior deputy public prosecutor (DPP) Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram and DPP Ahmad Akram Gharib, the prosecution closed its case on Dec 11. The DPPs have offered 10 witnesses to the defence, represented by lawyers Datuk Akberdin Abdul Kader, Datuk Jagjit Singh and Azrul Zulkifli Stork.

The crux of the case centred on Rosmah’s purported influence over the handling of government contract negotiations that did not concern her role as wife of the prime minister.

Witnesses said upon her husband Najib taking office in 2009, a special department, named First Lady of Malaysia or FLOM, was set up to handle Rosmah’s day-to-day affairs, including events for her pet project — the Permata programme which focuses on early childhood development.

Witnesses who worked in the FLOM department testified that a lot of money was spent by Rosmah for the sole purpose of shoring up her image to counter the less-than-flattering picture of her being painted by so-called cyber troopers.

Rosmah’s former aide, Datuk Rizal Mansor, who had earlier been jointly accused in the case and was later granted witness protection, testified against his former boss.

Former education minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid also took the stand, as did his secretary-generals at the time, Tan Sri Dr Madinah Mohamad and, subsequently, Datuk Seri Alias Ahmad. Former Ministry of Finance deputy treasury secretary-general, Datuk Othman Semail, was another senior government official called.

Also taking the witness stand were Jepak’s former managing director Saidi Abang Samsudin and his business partner, Rayyan Radzwill Abdullah.

Rosmah’s involvement in the solar hybrid project first arose when Jepak’s Saidi failed to convince Mahdzir, an old friend, to have the project speedily approved in Jepak’s favour.

Mahdzir testified he had allowed the tender process to take its proper course, especially as it involved a large sum.

Saidi and Rayyan sought alternative routes, and eventually got in touch with Rizal, who reported to Rosmah at the time. The businessmen had already sent a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office but wanted to seek express buy-in to get the project approved. Rizal therefore agreed to set up a meeting between the businessmen and Rosmah, on one condition.

“Rizal suggested that I make a political contribution to Datuk Seri Najib Razak,” Saidi testified in court. This political contribution also had terms and conditions, and the stipulated agreed amount was set at 15% of the total project contract or RM187.5 million.

An “agreement” was purportedly drafted to put into writing the political contribution but it has purportedly since gone missing.

To expedite the approval, the prosecution contends Rosmah asserted her influence on Mahdzir and Madinah when they met briefly at her Permata programme events. Both testified that Rosmah had instructed them to look into the project and although they felt it was an unusual request, they abided by her instructions because she was a person of authority.

During cross examination, the defence put it to Mahdzir, Madinah, Alias and Othman that they had bent the rules to get the project approved to Jepak even though the company patently lacked the capital or expertise to undertake the job, and that they had failed to conduct proper due diligence because they had accepted money from Jepak. Mahdzir, for instance, was alleged to have received RM60 million from Saidi as his cut for helping Jepak secure the project. He denied the allegation, as did the others who insisted they had merely followed instructions from the top.

Subsequently, Jepak was awarded the RM1.25 billion contract by the government, and after considerable push on its part, was also given RM63 million in July 2017 as an advance payment to kick-start the project.

Saidi’s driver, a bank teller, and Saidi’s friend, who had accompanied him to deliver the money, also testified that over the course of December 2016 to September 2017, RM6.5 million cash — in two tranches of RM5 million and RM1.5 million — were sent to Rosmah at her residences in Seri Perdana, Putrajaya, as well as Langgak Duta, Kuala Lumpur, respectively.

 

 

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