Ex-chief auditor says letting 1MDB review report is an insult

Malaysia's former top government auditor Ambrin Buang said his team had to do "abnormal" things during a Feb 24, 2016, meeting with 1MDB.
Malaysia's former top government auditor Ambrin Buang said his team had to do "abnormal" things during a Feb 24, 2016, meeting with 1MDB.PHOTO: BERNAMA

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's former top government auditor Ambrin Buang told the High Court yesterday that it was "insulting" to him that the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) chief was allowed to review an audit report by his department on the state fund, page by page, before it was published.

Tan Sri Ambrin, now retired, also said it was "abnormal" when an auditee was able to review the report and sit in at a meeting with other stakeholders, which resulted in several amendments being made to 1MDB's audit report in February 2016.

The former auditor-general said this during cross-examination by lead defence counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who is representing former premier Najib Razak in the audit-tampering trial.

Mr Ambrin, 71, told the court: "I find it insulting when the auditee is given the honour of reviewing our report page by page, paragraph by paragraph.

"I was told to keep my opinion to myself and write a book about it. How could I be happy?"

Mr Ambrin was referring to a meeting held on Feb 24, 2016, at the office of then chief secretary to the government Ali Hamsa.

The meeting was attended by 1MDB's chief executive at the time, Arul Kanda Kandasamy, along with representatives from the Attorney-General's Chambers and the Prime Minister's Office.

The court had earlier heard testimonies that there was an agreement to omit four issues from the audit report, including the issue of two conflicting financial statements and over the presence of fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho at 1MDB meetings.

Najib has been charged with abusing his position to order amendments to the 1MDB final audit report to avoid any action being taken against him, while Arul Kanda is charged with abetting Najib in making the amendments to the report.

If found guilty, they could face up to 20 years in jail and fined no less than five times the amount of gratification or RM10,000 (S$3,300).

Mr Ambrin, in his testimony, said auditors should be free to express their opinion in their reports as this is the normal practice.

UNACCEPTABLE

I was told to keep my opinion to myself and write a book about it. How could I be happy?

FORMER TOP GOVERNMENT AUDITOR AMBRIN BUANG, on how he found it "insulting when the auditee is given the honour of reviewing our report page by page, paragraph by paragraph".

He also said his team had to do "abnormal" things beyond normal practice during the Feb 24 meeting, before the report was submitted to Parliament's bipartisan Public Accounts Committee.

He added that the 1MDB audit was special as it was mandated by the Cabinet under Najib at the time and the National Audit Department. Mr Ambrin said that Najib's then principal private secretary, Tan Sri Shukry Salleh, as well as Tan Sri Ali expressed the need for the report to be amended to avoid the opposition "spinning" its contents.

During the cross-examination, Shafee asked the witness if someone had "pointed a gun to his head" to make him change the contents of the report, and Mr Ambrin disagreed.

To a question on whether Najib's former principal private secretary, Mr Shukry, had specifically pressured him to make the changes, Mr Ambrin answered "no".

The trial before Justice Mohamed Zaini Mazlan will continue tomorrow. There are five trials covering a total of 42 criminal charges against Najib, mainly over corruption and money laundering related to 1MDB that took place soon after he became prime minister in 2009.

Najib was, on July 28, found guilty of three counts of criminal breach of trust, three counts of money laundering and one count of abuse of power over RM42 million linked to SRC International, a former 1MDB subsidiary.

He was sentenced to 12 years in jail and fined RM210 million. He has appealed against the convictions.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2020, with the headline 'Ex-chief auditor says letting 1MDB review report is an insult'. Subscribe