KUALA LUMPUR - A former aide to the wife of former Malaysian premier Najib Razak told a court on Wednesday (Sept 9) that he received RM100,000 (S$32,800) a month from Rosmah Mansor in 2012 to pay a team of "cyber troopers" to monitor content on social media and defend her from online attacks.
"This team was also responsible for countering and providing explanation to every slander, assertion and accusation towards Datin Seri Rosmah to the public," said Datuk Rizal Mansor - who is not related to Rosmah.
The witness was quoted by Malay Mail as telling the court in the corruption trial of Rosmah: "The cyber troopers were operating on funds provided by Datin Seri Rosmah herself. She gave me RM100,000 cash every month to finance the team."
Rosmah, 69, is facing a charge of soliciting RM187.5 million and two counts of receiving a total of RM6.5 million in exchange for helping a company, Jepak Holdings, win a RM1.25 billion solar project for schools in Sarawak.
Mr Rizal himself was initially charged with four counts of soliciting and receiving bribes involving RM218 million for Rosmah over the same project. But the charges were withdrawn and he was acquitted in January this year.
Mr Rizal, 46, told the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Wednesday that his main responsibilities were guarding Rosmah's image and reputation, as she was under close scrutiny by the public.
Mr Rizal, the 21st prosecution witness, told the court that Rosmah was often linked to public perceptions such as being the real power behind Najib and for leading an extravagant lifestyle, Malay Mail online news said.
He said that Rosmah in 2012 told him to establish a team of cyber troopers - individuals who would disseminate online political propaganda for a fee - that would be paid by her.
Mr Rizal said he was hired in 2009 into a special department under the Prime Minister's Department that was then called the First Lady of Malaysia office.
He had worked as a communications executive at giant Malaysian media group Media Prima and was to handle media relations for the prime minister's wife. He said he worked for Rosmah until the middle of 2018, when the Barisan Nasional government was ousted from power.
Mr Rizal said that he fled Malaysia after the general election as he feared that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) would arrest him.
"I panicked and decided to flee to Jakarta, Indonesia," he told the court, as quoted by Malaysiakini.
"Two to three weeks after that, the MACC contacted me to present myself at the MACC office to facilitate its investigation," he said.
He returned to the country and was arrested by agency when he reported to its office.
Mr Rizal also told the court that Rosmah was feared by in the civil service due to her reputation as the "fierce wife" of then-PM Najib, but this was merely their perception, The Star online news reported.
Mr Rizal said Rosmah was seen as the spouse who could influence the decision and action of Najib.
"In the eyes of the public servants, Rosmah has the ability to influence the prime minister in transferring government servants who oppose or defy her requests to lesser positions, or in other words, to be put in 'cold storage', or have them moved to places farther than where they live," Mr Rizal said.
He gathered this perception, he said, when mingling with civil servants, but he said at that point in time he did not believe it to be true and ascribed it to rumours that were trying to ruin Rosmah's reputation.
"As her special officer, I would always defend her image to these people," he said.