NAD director recorded Feb 24, 2016 meeting to produce minutes — and was shocked by discussion

National Audit Department director Nor Salwani Muhammad, the fifth prosecution witness, at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex today. (Photo by Patrick Goh/The Edge)

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KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 21): National Audit Department (NAD) director Nor Salwani Muhammad (pictured) was the one who recorded the Feb 24, 2016 meeting where top government officials agreed to amend and destroy the original 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) audit report, the High Court heard today.

Nor Salwani, 52, who is the fifth prosecution witness, said she came for the Feb 24 meeting as the coordinator of the 1MDB audit report team but was not allowed into the room.

"However, before the start of the meeting, I placed a recording device and placed it in fellow colleague Saadatul Nafisah Bashir Ahmad's pencil case. The purpose is I have to at times prepare the minutes of the meeting," the witness said in response to questions from senior deputy public prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram.

The witness said she placed the recording device without the knowledge of Saadatul Nafisah, who was the former audit director of the department.

Nor Salwani told the court that when the meeting ended, she retrieved the recording device from Saadatul Nafisah.

She also told the court that then Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang looked sad and upset after leaving the meeting room.

"I accompanied him as he went to a wash room to wash his face. I followed Ambrin as he looked like he would fall, as he looked so fragile. Ambrin was also mumbling something which I could hear clearly, 'what is the purpose of the audit'," she said.

The witness said after the recording device was retrieved, she and her colleagues played the device before the auditing team and were shocked at what they heard.

"Never before in my 21 years history of working there have we faced an event like this, where the final audit report was asked to be 'digugurkan' (dropped) and called for the report to be 'dilupuskan' (destroyed). This has never happened before and for this reason, my team and I were shocked," Nor Salwani said.

The fifth prosecution witness further added that the recording device is owned by NAD.

She said immediately after they heard the meeting conversation, she made a copy of the recording on a hard drive belonging to the department.

Nor Salwani said as she feared the repercussion of the meeting being recorded without the knowledge of the chairman (then chief secretary of the government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa), she decided to make another copy on a hard drive and also a thumb drive.

The recording device and thumb drive were tendered by the prosecution as evidence.

Yesterday, the whole audio recording was played to Ali in the court.

'Standard practice by NAD to record meetings'

Following the revelation, Datuk Seri Najib Razak's lead defence counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah grilled Nor Salwani during her cross-examination about why she did not tell her superiors that she was recording the meeting.

Shafee: Isn't it an ethical responsibility of the NAD to tell the chief secretary that you placed the recording device for minutes taking purposes?

Nor Salwani: I didn't have the chance to tell him, because we were ushered to leave the meeting room in a hurry.

Shafee: But the KSN (chief secretary) was already there?

Nor Salwani: He just got in.

Shafee: Then if you had the time to slip in the recording [device], you definitely had the time to tell him if you wanted to.

Nor Salwani: I didn't have the chance, because I was ranked lower compared to [NAD audit director] Puan Nafisah.

Nor Salwani also added that she didn't think there was a need to ask for permission from the chief secretary to record the meeting as it was for NAD's own minutes of the meeting.

She clarified that even without their knowledge, Ambrin and Nafisah should expect that it was recorded as it is a standard practice by the department to record any meeting.

Nor Salwani disagreed with Shafee's suggestion that she intentionally put the recording device in the pencil case to record the meeting secretly.

She was then temporarily dismissed from the witness stand, pending the full transcript of the audio recording, as well as the minutes of an exit conference held on Dec 16, 2015 that was attended by former 1MDB chief executive officer Arul Kanda Kandasamy.

She was testifying in the 1MDB audit report tampering trial of Arul Kanda and Najib today.

Najib has been charged with abusing his power to amend the report before it was submitted to the Public Accounts Committee to protect himself from disciplinary, civil and criminal actions while Arul Kanda has been charged with abetting the former premier.

If convicted, they face a maximum jail term of 20 years and a fine of at least five times the amount of gratification, or RM10,000, whichever is higher.

For more stories on the 1MDB audit report tampering trial, click here.