Ex-1MDB chairman Bakke says he met Jho Low at Najib's office, used Low's handphone to speak to Najib

Mohd Bakke (pictured) says he used Jho Low's handphone to speak to Najib in 2009. (Photo by The Edge)

Mohd Bakke (pictured) says he used Jho Low's handphone to speak to Najib in 2009. (Photo by The Edge)

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KUALA LUMPUR (April 1): Ex-1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) chairman Tan Sri Mohd Bakke Salleh told the High Court here on Friday (April 1) that he had met fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, who is also known as Jho Low, in former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's office when Najib was the defence minister and deputy prime minister.

Mohd Bakke said he also used Jho Low's handphone to speak to Najib in 2009.

Testifying before High Court Judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan on Friday as the 13th prosecution witness in Najib’s joint trial with former 1MDB chief executive officer Arul Kanda Kandasamy over alleged tampering with the 1MDB audit report, Mohd Bakke said it was not just a mere impression he had that Jho Low was Najib’s representative, and that Najib's links with Jho Low were based on Mohd Bakke seeing the businessman with Najib in a number of occasions.

“It was not an impression [of Jho Low and Najib]. I met him (Jho Low) at Najib’s office at the Ministry of Defence when Najib was the minister there and I met him at the deputy prime minister’s office when Najib was the deputy prime minister and on a number of occasions,” Mohd Bakke said when cross-examined by defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.

Mohd Bakke was responding to a claim by Shafee who implied that the witness had the impression from other people that Jho Low was Najib’s representative.

According to Mohd Bakke, when 1MDB was initially known as the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA) under the Terengganu state government, Jho Low had asked for his help to set up the structure and business model of TIA.

Mohd Bakke also recalled on Friday how Terengganu Ruler Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin had appointed him as a member of TIA's steering committee in early 2009.

According to Mohd Bakke, he met Najib during the TIA steering committee meeting and Najib had asked him to help Jho Low and TIA.

During Friday's High Court hearing, Shafee also asked Mohd Bakke if the “nonsense about Jho Low could have been avoided” if 1MDB's board of directors went to the board of advisers to clarify the businessman’s role in the company.

Najib was then the chairman of 1MDB's board of advisers, according to Mohd Bakke.

The witness also said Jho Low never had a formal role in 1MDB despite giving instructions and having the final say on the company's business dealings.

Shafee: You agree with me that Jho Low held no official position in 1MDB. You agree with me [that] if the board of advisers was triggered, you can appear and this nonsense involving Jho Low can be avoided.

Mohd Bakke: That’s a fair comment, but the circumstances underpinning 1MDB were different because the chairman of the board of advisers (Najib) was interacting with Jho Low.

Mohd Bakke also testified about Jho Low's telephone call to Najib before 1MDB was about to start its meeting on Sept 26, 2009 on a proposed joint venture (JV) with PetroSaudi International Ltd.

The JV required 1MDB to pump in US$1 billion, according to Mohd Bakke.

The witness said that if Najib as the then chairman of 1MDB's board of advisers had not appeared “on the scene”, the JV with PetroSaudi would not have happened.

“Had the chairman of [1MDB's] board of advisers not appeared on the scene, then I doubt very much this 1MDB transaction would have happened,” Mohd Bakke added.

Najib told Bakke to focus on JV with PetroSaudi instead of looking at old transactions

Mohd Bakke said he had feelings of discomfort to embark on the JV and that 1MDB's board of directors was also uneasy about it.

“On Sept 26, 2009, we were expecting details and explanations from 1MDB's management on these deals.

"We were expecting more details, explanations and rationales for the JV. We were hoping to see all these but it was not there," the witness added.

Mohd Bakke also said Jho Low had passed him the phone (belonging to Jho Low) to speak with Najib.

"Basically, Najib told me don't spend too much time looking at past transactions because the board was asking how we ended up with RM4.3 billion from the RM5 billion Islamic medium-term notes," he said.

Mohd Bakke added that the board also questioned why 1MDB was servicing interest of RM145 million for six months on the issuance. "Although we parked RM4.3 billion in fixed deposits, the interest from income was lower," he said.

“We (the board of directors of 1MDB) were not happy. But Najib told us to focus on the JV. We needed to firm up this [JV] as soon as possible because we wanted to witness this (the signing of the JV agreement) with Prince Turki [who was coming to Kuala Lumpur for the signing of the agreement]," he said.

“Coming from the [then] prime minister (Najib) and telling us not to worry, this was a government-to-government agreement.

"So I shared with the board [of directors of 1MDB] this is what Najib asked us to do,” he explained.

Najib was the prime minister of Malaysia from April 2009 to May 2018.

Before becoming the premier, he was the deputy prime minister from 2004 to 2009 and the defence minister between 1999 and 2008.

The hearing before Justice Mohamed Zaini continues on April 12, 2022.

Lam Jian Wyn & Chong Jin Hun