Ex-banker denies witness-tampering charges, downplays Jho Low links

 Photo of Yeo Jiawei from court documents.
Photo of Yeo Jiawei from court documents. PHOTO: COURT DOCUMENT

Former banker Yeo Jiawei denied charges of witness tampering and downplayed his links with Mr Low Taek Jho, the elusive Malaysian tycoon caught up in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

Yeo, who is facing four counts of obstruction of justice, told the court yesterday that he had never been employed by Mr Low, better known as Jho Low, nor had he ever "received a single cent" from the high-living financier.

Mr Low, his close associate Eric Tan Kim Loong and Mohamed Ahmed Badawy Al-Husseiny have been named as key "persons of interest" by the Singapore authorities in connection with its 1MDB probe.

While Yeo was testifying in another court, his former superior, Yak Yew Chee, a former BSI private banker to Mr Low, became the first person convicted in the 1MDB probe. Yak pleaded guilty yesterday to four of seven charges, including forging documents and failing to flag suspicious transactions allegedly related to Low.

In court yesterday, Yeo called himself an "intermediary", an "independent consultant" and a "business introducer", instead of a key figure facilitating an illicit scheme siphoning billions of dollars from the Malaysian fund.

In response to questions from his lawyer, Mr Philip Fong, Yeo claimed that he never told his former boss, Mr Kevin Swampillai, who was BSI's head of wealth management services, that he was going to work for Mr Low. He also denied receiving a $500,000-a-year job offer from Mr Low.

"My last annual pay at BSI was $450,000. If I was going to join Jho Low, I won't be asking for just $50,000 more," he said.

Yeo added that Mr Low was just a client who wanted to set up a trust.

He also addressed a prosecution photo that showed Yeo travelling in a private jet to Hong Kong with Mr Low. Yeo said he "sneaked the photo" because he "got carried away" as it was his first time on a private jet.

"If I was close to Low, I won't be sitting on the very end (of the plane) sneaking a photo. I will probably be having a selfie with him."

He said he spent just five minutes on the private jet talking to Mr Low about trusts that could be set up through financial firm Amicorp.

Yeo disputed claims that he allegedly told Amicorp relationship manager Jose Renato Carvalho Pinto to get rid of his laptop, which would likely contain evidence of Yeo's dealings with Amicorp, and to "not travel to Singapore to avoid being interviewed" by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD).

"I told him I was pulled up for questioning by CAD, and out of goodwill I told him if he came by Singapore, be prepared to be held up like me. I don't have intention to tell him to lie, cheat and hide something from CAD," Yeo said.

Yeo is also facing charges that he told his associate, Mr Samuel Goh Sze Wei, to lie to police that the funds Mr Goh transferred to companies owned by Yeo and Mr Swampillai were his investments. Yeo, disputing this, said: "It's not entirely fair because I was taking instructions from Mr Swampillai, who organised the meeting with Sam. It was Mr Swampillai telling Sam to do that."

He also disputed Mr Goh's testimony that he was doing everything on Yeo's instructions. "I bring in the clients, but Sam handles the operational part of the business.

"If I really wanted somebody to be a robot and sign whatever I sign, I can easily get a nominee director who will cost $1,000 to $2,000 a year. Why go into a partnership with a robot? It doesn't make sense."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-banker denies witness-tampering charges, downplays Jho Low links'. Subscribe