Ex-BSI banker trial: Yeo Jiawei recognised potential of setting up fund company to deal with 1MDB, says witness

A court sketch showing former BSI banker Yeo Jiawei on Nov 2, 2016. ST ILLUSTRATION: CHNG CHOON HIONG

SINGAPORE - The former supervisor of ex-BSI banker Yeo Jiawei acknowledged that it was his idea to leave the Swiss private bank and make lucrative referral fees from setting up a company that would manage the proceeds from a deal with Brazen Sky, a wholly-owned unit of scandal-hit state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

"The idea may have come from me, but Yeo was (an) enthusiastic supporter of the idea and had participated actively with me in that discussion," Mr Kevin Swampillai said on Day 3 of the trial on Wednesday (Nov 2).

In cross examining prosecution witness Mr Swampillai, BSI's former head of wealth management services, lawyer Philip Fong, who represents Yeo, asked if he had put the idea in Yeo's head for the fund management business.

"The fund company would be managing a portfolio value of more than US$2.3 billion (S$3.2 billion). Did you tell Yeo this?" Mr Fong asked.

Mr Swampillai denied this, saying Yeo "recognised the potential of that business" without him having to say so.

Yeo, 33, is on trial on four charges for perverting the course of justice by allegedly urging witnesses to lie to police and destroy evidence. Other charges of money laundering, cheating and forgery will be dealt with in a separate trial next year.

In Day 2 of the trial on Tuesday, prosecutors revealed that Yeo quit his job at BSI to work for Malaysian tycoon Low Taek Jho, who is accused of siphoning billions from 1MDB.

Mr Swampillai, a 52-year-old Malaysian who was suspended from BSI and is now unemployed, testified that he and Yeo made millions in "secret profits" from their 1MDB dealings.

The pair set up shell companies Bridge Partners International Management (BPIM) and Bridge Global Managers to receive the "secret profits", which were then channelled to companies owned by Yeo and Mr Swampillai - Bridgerock Investment and GTB Investment respectively.

In September 2012, 1MDB sold its shares in a venture for US$2.32 billion and received units in BPIM. 1MDB earlier said the units were owned by Brazen Sky, and held through Swiss bank BSI in Singapore as custodian.

This "referral fees" arrangement, according to Mr Swampillai, came about as a result of a joint collaboration, and stemmed from a portion of the management fees paid by Brazen Sky to BPIM, and then to Bridge Global Managers (BGM), and ultimately to Bridgerock Investment and GTB Investment.

But he said BGM was "not my idea".

"It was Yeo's idea that there should be an intermediary company between our companies and BPIM, which I fully supported" to afford an added layer of security, he said.

When it came to establishing fees to be paid to the fund manager, that decision was almost always determined by Yak Yew Chee, former BSI private banker to controversial Malaysian tycoon Low Taek Jho or Jho Low.

"When it came to fees, Yeo and myself had more responsibility to establish the cost of transaction rather than the fees to pay the fund manager. After establishing the costs, then everyone could decide what fee goes to the bank, subject to Yak agreeing to the numbers too," Mr Swampillai said.

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