Malaysian ex-PM Najib had 'ultimate power' in 1MDB, says former CFO

Former premier Najib Razak is facing four charges of abusing his position to obtain gratification totalling RM2.28 billion (S$741 million) in 1MDB funds and 21 counts of money laundering involving the same money. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak wielded the "ultimate power" in 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) when it came to the company's decision-making, the Kuala Lumpur High Court was told.

Former 1MDB chief financial officer Azmi Tahir testified at the High Court on Thursday (Nov 11) that Najib's power was in line with Article 117 of the Memorandum & Articles of Association (M&A) of the company, whereby every important decision must be under the instruction or the approval of the prime minister.

In his 127-page witness statement at the High Court, Mr Azmi said: "Najib is the person with the ultimate power in every decision, particularly involving investment, financial decision and national interest."

His testimony echoed those of his former colleagues - former 1MDB chief executive officers Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi, 51, and Mohd Hazem Abd Rahman, 49.

Mr Azmi, 48, said that during his time as the CFO, there were "confidential moves" that were planned by fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, with the instructions and "blessings" of Najib.

"Selected people were chosen and arranged at the highest management of 1MDB and the board of directors to ensure that these moves and backdoor instructions were carried out," he added.

Mr Azmi was the prosecution's 12th witness in the trial involving RM2.28 billion (S$741 million) from the sovereign wealth fund.

The witness said he was one of those who had "worked in silos", while the rest were Mr Mohd Hazem (who was the chief operating officer at the time), Datuk Shahrol, Mr Vincent Koh (chief investment officer), Ms Jasmine Loo (general counsel) and Mr Terence Geh (deputy CFO).

"Low told me that all assignments were on a need-to-know basis," Mr Azmi said.

The instructions were known only by people inside the layered system, coordinated by Low and Najib's former principal private secretary, Datuk Azlin Alias, he said.

"The instructions I received from them (Low and Azlin) were in the form of a mandate from Najib as the prime minister.

"Therefore, the officers in the layered system have to follow Low's instructions because his instructions are Najib's instructions, in line with Article 117," he added.

Mr Azmi, whose previous position was in corporate finance at Deloitte, began working at 1MDB as the CFO on June 1, 2012, where he drew a monthly salary of between RM40,000 and RM45,000.

"I am no longer working at any company and am self-employed," he said.

Mr Azmi also told the court that he was introduced to Low, who was "Najib's 1MDB adviser", in a meeting that was arranged by Mr Azlin.

The meeting took place at Low's office in KLCC in June 2012 after Mr Azmi joined 1MDB. Mr Azlin did not attend the meeting.

"I was told in this meeting that all the instructions from Azlin and Low were mandates from Najib and I only needed to follow them.

"After the meeting, I confirmed with Azlin whether what Low said was true and applicable. Azlin confirmed what Low told me.

"From then on, I would carry out any instructions from Azlin and Low because I believed those instructions were mandates from Najib," he said.

During the testimony, Najib's lawyer Wan Aizuddin Wan Mohammed stood up to raise objections over Mr Azmi's statement several times, saying that the witness' testimony was "hearsay".

Justice Collin Lawrence Sequerah, however, said the court would deal with the objections during the oral submission stage of the trial.

Najib, 68, is facing four charges of abusing his position to obtain gratification totalling RM2.28 billion in 1MDB funds and 21 counts of money laundering involving the same money.

The hearing continues on Monday.

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