KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama): The High Court was told that 1Malaysia Development Bhd's (1MDB) former director and chairman Tan Sri Mohd Bakke Salleh instructed that a telephone call between him and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak should not be recored during a 1MDB-PetroSaudi International Ltd (PSI) joint-venture (JV) meeting in 2009.
Former 1MDB chief executive officer, Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi said the special meeting of the 1MDB board of directors (BOD), chaired by Mohd Bakke on Sept 26,2009, was held to decide whether to proceed with the joint venture between the two companies.
Under cross-examination by Najib's defence lead counsel, Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Shahrol, 49, testified that the meeting was also attended by fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho or Jho Low on his invitation.
"I invited Jho Low to the meeting for him to explain directly to the board the essence of PSI, how it was a government-to-government (G2G) initiative and how it came about.
"At the very beginning of the meeting, Bakke received a phone call, after Jho Low dialled a number and passed the phone to him.
"Upon receiving the phone from Jho Low, Bakke mouthed the word 'PM' to us and left the room.
"I don't remember the exact words he said when he came back, but essentially, he informed that he had spoken to Datuk Seri Najib, and he (Najib) informed him that it was a G2G initiative and could not be delayed or rather, 'disegerakan' (speeded up), ” he said.
The ninth prosecution witness said when Mohd Bakke told the board that such information was regarded as something very significant, which led to fewer questions raised by the board regarding 1MDB assets evaluation.
"Mohd Bakke then issued a directive for the call not to be recorded in the minutes of the meeting. If I can recall (correctly), I even suggested the meeting be audio-taped but he (Mohd Bakke) disagreed," he said.
Pressed by Shafee, Shahrol explained that 1MDB proceeded with the 1MDB-PSI JV without confirming the shareholding ratio between the two companies.
"At that time, we already had the indicative evaluation which allowed us to perform a more detailed evaluation afterwards. The key point here is, it was truly a G2G transaction which Datuk Seri Najib really wanted to happen, and the partnership with PetroSaudi was of paramount importance.
"The shareholding was already 60:40. But the rationale was that our 40% would be diluted should their valuation be higher. We went ahead with it on the basis that this was a G2G initiative and we would be able to renegotiate after that," he said.
Shahrol said the board proceeded on the basis that this was a friendly party that had been endorsed by Najib.
Earlier, when queried by the counsel, the witness agreed he did not verify the track record of PSI before presenting the information on the energy company to the board.
Shahrol also testified that PSI claimed to have projects in Europe, Latin America and Central Asia based on the company’s kit which PSI provided, but he never attempted to get substantiate with proof himself.
"I didn't see any annual report (of the company). We relied heavily on the information provided by PSI," he said.
The prosecution's key witness also did not rule out the possibility that Najib could have been played out by Jho Low, whom he described as the "conductor of an orchestra”.
"Honestly, it's difficult for me to comment from the limited sphere of what I know. The manipulation was done with a very good disguise of ‘this is for the good of the country, for the good of the prime minister’ but I don’t know what the prime minister then knew, so it is very difficult for me to comment," he said.
Najib, 66, faces four charges of using his position to obtain bribes totalling RM2.3 billion from 1MDB funds and 21 charges of money laundering involving the same amount.
The hearing before Judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah continues tomorrow. – Bernama