Fugitive financier Low Taek Jho had "extraordinary powers" due to his involvement in various dealings linked to Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak, a key witness in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption trial told the court yesterday.
Datuk Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin, a former special officer to Najib, said that Low, better known as Jho Low, had worked behind the scenes for the then Prime Minister in the state fund, government-to-government negotiations, international relations as well as political arrangements.
Najib is facing 21 counts of money laundering and four counts of abuse of power for allegedly receiving illegal transfers of RM2.28 billion (S$750 million) between 2011 and 2014.
Mr Amhari, formerly a director at digital agency Orb Solutions, testified that Low - who is also facing criminal charges in Malaysia and the United States over his alleged role in the 1MDB case - would "usually get the nod from Najib".
"Most times, I was informed by Najib that Jho Low's instructions have been agreed upon by him," the eighth prosecution witness said.
Mr Amhari, 43, who was appointed as a special officer to the then premier and had worked directly with him since 2009 on national economic policies and the annual Budget, labelled Low as someone "important" to Najib.
Mr Amhari said Low was already working with Najib before he was appointed as the special officer.
He added that Low appeared to be part of the inner circle of Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor.
"My first meeting with Jho Low was at a restaurant in Georgetown, Penang, after I was promoted as economic director in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) in March 2014... (He) was talkative and indicated that he was in the inner circle of the former premier's family," Mr Amhari said as he read his witness statement in court.
"He knew Najib through the latter's stepson Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz, or Riza Aziz, as they had known each other since they were teenagers. Rosmah also had no issue about Jho Low being close with the family," Mr Amhari said, adding that Najib's wife had called Low numerous times.
Mr Amhari also told the court that individuals working with Najib were aware of only issues directly related to their role in 1MDB to ensure that top-secret matters remained confidential.
After the 1MDB scandal broke in 2015, e-mails became locked with passwords, he said.
He also claimed that he and his former boss, Datuk Seri Azlin Alias, were only aware of the issues surrounding the troubled state fund after the scandal broke, adding that both of them were surprised by the revelations that Riza had allegedly funded the Hollywood blockbuster, The Wolf Of Wall Street, and bought real estate in the US with 1MDB funds.
Riza has pleaded not guilty to five charges of money laundering in a separate trial.
The court yesterday heard that Low then instructed Mr Azlin to go into damage control mode.
"We were given talking points by Jho Low to inform everyone in the PMO that these were all manipulation by the opposition to bring down Najib," Mr Amhari said, adding that Low was also good at manipulating officers when dealing with 1MDB-related matters.
"Jho Low is a master manipulator and I can say that I have been used for insincere purposes," he said.
Najib was also aware of Low's actions, he said.
The hearing continues today before Judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah.
Last week, seven witnesses testified in court on behalf of the prosecution which sought to show that funds allegedly stolen by Najib from 1MDB were used to bolster his political standing.
Orb Solutions' former chief executive officer Noorhaina Hirawani Mohd Noor testified that the company had received a RM2 million cheque to help Najib engage with the public in a "less formal manner".
The prosecution claims that Najib put himself in "sole control of important matters" at the state fund so that he could misappropriate the money and cover up the theft.
The prosecution has also named Low as "an important character" in the case, describing him as Najib's "alter ego" who colluded with the former leader in carrying out the illegal transfers of money.
Najib, whose Barisan Nasional coalition lost the general election last year because of, among other things, voter anger over the 1MDB scandal, has maintained his innocence and denounced the charges as politically motivated.