Najib's 1MDB trial: Defence tries to pin down witness as working in cahoots with fugitive Jho Low

Former Malaysian PM Najib Razak is facing 21 counts of money laundering and four counts of abuse of power for allegedly receiving illegal transfers of RM2.28 billion (S$753 million) between 2011 and 2014 from 1MDB, while businessman Jho Low is still
Former Malaysian PM Najib Razak is facing 21 counts of money laundering and four counts of abuse of power for allegedly receiving illegal transfers of RM2.28 billion (S$753 million) between 2011 and 2014 from 1MDB, while businessman Jho Low is still in hiding.PHOTOS: AFP, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's 1MDB trial resumed this week, with the defence team of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak seeking to pin down a witness as working together with fugitive financier Jho Low to manipulate the ex-premier to misappropriate billions of dollars from the state fund.

Mr Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin, a former special officer with Najib, represented the former premier in several 1MDB meetings and had described himself as a "mediator" among individuals involved with the state fund.

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$753 million) between 2011 and 2014 from 1MDB, a state fund that he controlled.

Defence lawyer Shafee Abdullah, in his cross-examination, accused Mr Amhari of defrauding 1MDB.

"You worked hand-in-hand with Jho Low from the beginning, hence the reason why Najib was kept misinformed by you and Jho Low working in tandem," Shafee said on Thursday (Sept 19), to which the witness denied.

Low has been in hiding since the 1MDB scandal broke in mid-2015, with Malaysian authorities still searching for him.

The defence has distanced Najib from Low, with Shafee telling reporters at the start of the trial last month that Low had "misled" Najib over 1MDB.

Mr Amhari, 43, in the course of his testimony in the High Court trial, had described Low as a "master manipulator".

Mr Amhari's testimony as the eighth witness is seen as crucial due to his close involvement with both Najib and Low, and he had cooperated with the anti-graft agency last year after his arrest to pinpoint documents.

 
 
 
 

In response to Mr Amhari's help to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), Shafee had argued the witness had worked with the authorities in order to plead leniency, and hoarded documents as a bargaining chip.

"You decided to work with MACC so that your own problems will be treated leniently, for offences that you obviously did. I mean, you are still not charged. This is a tit-for-tat, where you provide some information for them that would incriminate my client," Shafee said.

Mr Amhari denied making any agreements with the anti-graft agency.

The witness, however, admitted to receiving money on various occasions from Low - pocket money for official overseas trips and a US$200,000 (S$275,000) bridging loan to buy a home.

Mr Amhari has called himself loyal to his former employer, Najib, prior to Barisan Nasional's (BN) defeat in the 2018 General Election.

The former aide testified that Najib instructed him, as the sole secret envoy for the then Prime Minister, to go to China to facilitate 1MDB's bailout, and to Abu Dhabi to resolve 1MDB's debt woes with Mubadala Investment Co, Abu Dhabi's sovereign fund, in a bid to prevent a dispute from landing in the International Arbitration Court.

But defence lawyer Shafee offered the notion that Najib has been misled throughout the 1MDB affair due to inattention, inefficacy by his aides, ultimately leading to failure to notify the former premier of Low's dishonest characteristics.

Mr Amhari denied this and put forth that the former PM has always relied on Low's assessments and decisions, while Najib's spouse Rosmah Mansor had described Low as "very obliging".

Mr Amhari had testified on Sept 3: "Most times, I was informed by Najib that Jho Low's instructions have been agreed upon by him (Najib)."

Prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram, in his re-examination, asked the witness if Najib had continued to confer and deal with Low after it became known that Low used 1MDB money to self profit from business dealings involving Utama Banking Group (UBG) that is tied to former Sarawak chief minister Taib Mahmud.

"After it was public knowledge that Jho Low was a conman, he played a confidence trick with Tun Taib Mahmud, did the accused continue to deal with him?" Datuk Seri Gopal asked, with Mr Amhari agreeing.

Low, according to Shafee, was called an "unsavoury character" by Terengganu Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, after the state government decided to pull out of Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA) - which later became 1MDB.

Low was also involved with the formation of TIA, but the state pulled the plug on its involvement with TIA after the latter issued a RM5 billion Islamic bond without representation from the state's investment arm.