Friday, 28 Feb 2020

1MDB scandal: Najib Razak says he did not check if millions in his accounts were from Saudis

Malaysia’s former premier Najib Razak told a court this week that he did not check whether the sum of US$681 million (S$920 million at today’s exchange rate) that came from a company called Tanore Finance and was found in his bank accounts around 2013 was in fact a donation from the Saudi royal family.

He said he trusted financier Jho Low as the “conduit of the royal family”.

Media reports say Tanore was controlled by Low, Najib’s former close associate who is now believed to be hiding from the law in China.

The bulk of the money, US$620 million, was returned to Tanore after the Najib-led Barisan Nasional won the May 2013 general election.

Najib, 67, also told the court in his corruption trial that he spent all the RM42 million (S$14 million) found in his bank accounts around 2014 without checking how much he had in those accounts.

He maintained that he did not know the money originated from SRC International, a former unit of state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Deputy public prosecutor (DPP) Datuk V. Sithambaram to Najib on Thursday: I put it to you that Tanore does not belong to the Saudi royal family. Najib: I cannot confirm. Mr Sithambaram: In hindsight, instead of asking Jho Low to whom the money was sent, would it not be more prudent to check with the donor? Najib: I did not check because Jho Low was the conduit of the royal family. The DPP asked why Najib’s defence team did not get the Saudi royal family to vouch for the “donation” of the US$681 million, which was converted in court to RM2.6 billion.

Mr Sithambaram: I put to you, from day one, when monies (came in) from 2011 to 2014, you knew as a fact these monies never came from the royal family. Najib: I disagree. Because some of the monies directly came from the Saudi ministry of finance. Mr Sithambaram: Unfortunately, no member of the Saudi royal family would come to court and confirm this, correct, sir? Najib: We have not, well, it is difficult to have them come to court. Mr Sithambaram: I also say it’s also convenient for you not to call them to court to maintain your story. Najib: I disagree.

Najib was making his defence in the closely-watched trial over seven charges of misappropriating RM42 million of SRC funds.

The charges involve three counts of criminal breach of trust, three of money laundering and one of abuse of power.

Najib testified this week that he believed the monies found in his bank accounts were his Corporate Social Responsibility funds that were handled by former SRC director Nik Faisal Ariff Kamal, who is now a fugitive.

When asked by Mr Sithambararam about his knowledge of SRC’s monies transferred into his accounts, Najib replied: “No”.

“But you spent every cent of it?” asked Mr Sithambaram on Wednesday. Najib responded “Yes”.

On Thursday, Najib told the court the RM42 million he used was assumed to be the balance from a Saudi donation. “The reason why you said you spent the RM42 million, you said you assumed it was from Arab donation,” Mr Sithambaram said.

Najib responded: “The balance of it, yes.”

This week’s cross-examination also saw Najib admitting that he did not have a plan to retrieve RM3.6 billion of SRC International’s loan money that had been frozen in a Swiss bank.

The Swiss authorities froze the accounts in 2013 on suspicion that the funds were laundered.

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