A lowly messenger or a key player? That question took centrestage at the trial of former BSI banker Yeo Jiawei, 33, yesterday with conflicting portraits of his alleged role in a complex money-laundering scheme.
Yeo's lawyer, Mr Philip Fong, suggested his client was a minor player in business dealings with Malaysian tycoon Low Taek Jho and Mohamed Ahmed Badawy Al-Husseiny - two key figures in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal. Mr Fong made the suggestion while cross-examining prosecution witness Jose Renato Carvalho Pinto, a relationship manager with financial services firm Amicorp.
On Monday, Mr Carvalho described how Yeo began to enjoy the high life once he linked up with Mr Low and Al-Husseiny, a former high-level official of Abu Dhabi state fund International Petroleum Investment Co (IPIC). Al-Husseiny, an American, has been detained by Abu Dhabi authorities and is awaiting extradition on 1MDB-related charges, media reports say.
But Mr Fong yesterday portrayed Yeo, who is facing four counts of obstructing justice, as someone merely "relaying instructions" to Amicorp on behalf of Al-Husseiny. Mr Carvalho agreed when Mr Fong put it to him that Al-Husseiny was the one who gave instructions to Yeo.
"So Yeo was just an intermediary and messenger," Mr Fong said.
Mr Carvalho replied: "A messenger doesn't fly private jet ... He was staying at (Emirates) Palace Hotel and flying private jet. He was not a DHL messenger."
Emirates Palace is a five-star luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi, which Mr Carvalho said Yeo had name-dropped when "talking big about spending nights in expensive hotels".
Mr Fong maintained that Yeo was not given any power of attorney, and had no authority to make decisions on behalf of clients.
But Mr Carvalho said Yeo was "not only involved in wire transfers, or scheduling voice mails". He testified that Yeo had told Amicorp how to structure funds for fake entities supposedly linked to the legitimate Aabar Investments PJS.
Prosecutors say four of these fake entities were set up, all with identical or almost identical names to Aabar Investments PJS, a unit of IPIC, with the intent to confuse. Al-Husseiny was director of these bogus entities. Amicorp had also set up bank accounts for one of them. These include Aabar International Investments PJS Ltd (BVI) and Aabar Investments PJS Ltd (Samoa).
Mr Carvalho said yesterday: "Yeo was working on the restructuring of funds for these Aabar entities. He had a plan on how to restructure the funds."
He testified that Amicorp, relying on information from Yeo, had concluded two of the Aabar entities were owned by the IPIC unit, and so were legitimate. Among the fake entities was Aabar Investments PJS Ltd based in the British Virgin Islands. It has not been named in the trial but is reported to have received US$3.5 billion (S$4.9 billion) from 1MDB. Mr Carvalho said he suspected these entities were bogus after IPIC told the London Stock Exchange in April it did not own the entity based in the British Virgin Islands.