Duit 1MDB la, bro! — Najib’s late private secretary

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on September 4, 2019.

During the 1MDB trial, Azlin was described as one who disliked raising his voice.

There were news reports that 1MDB monies were channelled to Riza (seen here) to purchase luxury real estate in the US and fund The Wolf of Wall Street, among others. Photo by Mohd Izwan Mohd Nazam

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KUALA LUMPUR: The late Datuk Azlin Alias, the main person appointed by Datuk Seri Najib Razak to manage 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), was so shocked to learn about the misappropriation of funds from the state-owned fund sometime before end-February 2015; he had an uncharacteristic outburst, said a witness in the 1MDB-Tanore trial yesterday.

Datuk Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin — having worked at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) under Azlin — said the former premier’s principal private secretary had exclaimed to him that it was “Duit 1MDB la, bro!” (It’s 1MDB money, brother) after a meeting with Najib in Putrajaya.

The eighth prosecution witness testified that he and Azlin had been told for months by Low Taek Jho (Jho Low) — whom Amhari described as Najib’s “close aide” — that news reports on 1MDB’s fund embezzlement were “manipulation by the opposition to bring down Najib”.

“In January or February 2015, there was one incident that I remember following the 1MDB issue which went viral then.

“On that day, I came to the PMO and waited for Datuk Azlin in his office because he was at the fifth floor meeting with Datuk Seri Najib.

“As he returned to his office, I saw him extremely stressed out and he released his frustration by shouting ‘Duit 1MDB la, bro!’ to me and slammed the files he was holding on the table,” said Amhari.

“I recall the incident vividly because as I knew him; Datuk Azlin was a person who is always calm, polite and had never acted that way in front of me. He was not a person who liked to raise his voice,” he added.

During his testimony, Amhari said he now believes Azlin was referring to the transfer of US$680 million into Najib’s AmBank accounts from 2011 to 2015, and not just news reports in 2015 that 1MDB monies were channelled to Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz to purchase luxury real estate in the US and fund the Hollywood film The Wolf of Wall Street, among others.

News of the funds being channelled into Najib’s Malaysian bank accounts broke in June 2015, after Azlin passed away in a helicopter crash in April that year.

Earlier, Amhari testified that he, Azlin and Jho Low had met numerous times at the Prince Hotel here where Jho Low gave “eyebrow-raising” instructions that were later confirmed to have been approved by Najib, such as to shortlist 1MDB board members and expedite certain financial approvals.

 

‘Jho Low capable of pulling strings in government, international banking entities’

When the 1MDB fiasco blew up in the open, Azlin and Amhari also received supporting letters from Jho Low to authenticate 1MDB’s business dealings with PetroSaudi International Ltd, “talking points” to respond to queries on 1MDB, and checklists to stall investigations by the 1MDB special task force.

The letters include:

  1.  letter of support for PetroSaudi from the Saudi embassy in Malaysia to Najib
  2.  letter of confirmation for PetroSaudi from the Malaysian ambassador to Saudi Arabia to 1MDB
  3.  letter of support by Banque Saudi Fransi in relation to PetroSaudi from Tarek Obaid to 1MDB
  4.  letter of confirmation for PetroSaudi from wealth management firm Helvetica Wealth Management Partners AG to 1MDB
  5.  letter of support for PetroSaudi from JP Morgan (Suisse) SA to 1MDB

The documents, he said, underscored PetroSaudi had satisfied all its commitments and that the 1MDB special task force investigation could be called off.

They also underscored the background of 1MDB’s joint venture with PetroSaudi, and the positive returns from Saudi Arabia as a result of the 1MDB-PetroSaudi agreements.

Initially, the witness believed the letters were authentic, based on their letterheads; he now believes the letters were prepared by Jho Low, whom the witness described as capable of influencing government bodies and international banks to conduct actions that suit his purposes.

“Jho Low’s modus operandi is positioning his people in different positions to undertake an agenda. He is very influential and ensured his people can influence [the five parties involved] to produce the letters to fit his purposes,” he said.

Amhari was arrested in June 2018 amid the reopening of the 1MDB probe after Najib fell out of power in the 14th general election in May that year.

On Sept 20, 2018, Najib was charged in the Sessions Court here with four counts of abusing his positions to obtain gratification under Section 23(1) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act 2009 to obtain bribes of RM2.28 billion.

The former premier was also slapped with 21 counts of money laundering under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001.

The hearing continues before High Court Judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah today.