Malaysian officer secretly recorded meeting where Najib tampered with audit, court hears

National Audit Department officer Nor Salwani Muhammad (centre) secretly tape recorded the meeting on Feb 24, 2016. PHOTO: NEW STRAITS TIMES PAPER

KUALA LUMPUR - An audit officer secretly tape recorded a meeting in 2016 where then Premier Najib Razak allegedly discussed removing several key sections from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) audit report that was to be presented to a parliamentary committee.

The 2hr 45min recording made by National Audit Department (NAD) officer Nor Salwani Muhammad of a meeting on Feb 24, 2016, held by top officials from government, and 1MDB was tendered as evidence in the High Court this week in the trial of Najib.

The former premier allegedly asked for the report to remove four contentious issues, including the presence of fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, in one 1MDB meeting though he did not have any position in the state fund.

Despite not being allowed inside, Ms Nor Salwani, 52, told the court she had hidden a voice recorder in the stationery case of another officer who attended the meeting.

"I should have been present because this was regarding our audit because I was the coordinator. So, I should take the minutes," she testified on Thursday (Nov 21).

The court was told that the meeting was chaired by then chief secretary to the government Ali Hamsa, and attended by then auditor-general Ambrin Buang, former chief private secretary to the prime minister Shukry Salleh, former 1MDB chief executive officer Arul Kanda Kandasamy and Attorney-General's Chambers officer Dzulkifli Ahmad.

Ms Nor Salwani told the court that she also secretly kept one of 60 copies of the original report, which the department had prepared in 2016, before it was allegedly tampered with.

Her then boss Tan Sri Ambrin had ordered all the original copies to be destroyed to prevent leaks, while the modified version was submitted to the parliamentary committee.

"I kept the report to be given to the new auditor-general. With pure intention, I had surrendered the report watermarked '09' to allow the new auditor-general to get the whole picture about the audit findings," she said.

The evidence saved by Ms Nor Salwani could become a crucial platform for the prosecution in the case.

The authenticity of the recording was confirmed by Tan Sri Ali on Wednesday, when he was called to take the stand to identify several voices.

On Tuesday, Mr Ali also testified that the meeting was called following Najib's instructions to remove "dissatisfactory content" in the report.

This trial is Najib's third involving 1MDB.

Najib, 66, altogether faces 42 charges of criminal breach of trust, graft, abuse of power and money laundering, in a case that had led to international probes in the United States, Singapore, Switzerland and other jurisdictions. The US Department of Justice has said US$4.5 billion (S$6.1 billion) was pilfered by government officials and their associates from state fund 1MDB.

In the audit tampering case, Najib has been charged with using his position to order amendments to the 1MDB final audit report to avoid any disciplinary action against him, while Arul Kanda was charged with abetting Najib.

In a separate trial, Najib had been ordered to enter his defence over seven charges of money laundering, corruption and criminal breach of trust over RM42 million (S$13.8 million) transferred into his bank accounts from SRC International, a former subsidiary of 1MDB.

In the third 1MDB-linked trial, Najib faces four charges of using his position to obtain bribes totalling RM2.3 billion from 1MDB funds and 21 charges of money laundering involving the same amount in a different court. This trial is set to resume on Jan 6 next year.

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