KUALA LUMPUR: A former 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) CEO has told the High Court that his testimony to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2015 had been “influenced by the idea” to protect the then prime minister.
Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi (pic), 50, admitted this when re-examined by lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram during the 1MDB trial involving former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
The witness – who was quizzed by the PAC during the probe into 1MDB in November 2015 – was asked on the reason he had destroyed speaking notes relating to the sovereign state fund.
Sri Ram: (During the cross-examination) You were asked about your evidence before the PAC. You said you destroyed the speaking notes because your job was to protect the accused.
Sri Ram: May I ask, this idea of protecting the accused, where did it come from?
Shahrol: Everybody, pretty much. Not just Low Taek Jho but people from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Barisan Nasional members from the PAC that I’ve interacted with... even from the beginning, I remember civil servants in the Finance Ministry used the phrase “must protect the PM”.
Asked to clarify who the two members from PMO were, Shahrol said he could remember only Datuk Ahmad Farid Ridzuan, who was Najib’s communications adviser at the time, and Najib’s special officer Datuk Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin.
Shahrol was then asked about Paul Stadlen’s role in Najib’s camp.
“He was introduced to me by Jho. He was the boss’s PR guy. He was managing PR and public perception. “I met him at Putrajaya Marriott Hotel. Paul was steadfast when I had a brief discussion with him on protecting the prime minister, ” he said.Sri Ram: Protecting him from what?
Shahrol: Reputational damage at that time. At that time, the Wall Street Journal was coming in thick and fast.
The witness also said that he had met with then PAC chairman Datuk Seri Hasan Arifin and at least one or two others at Farid’s home.
“The objective of that discussion at Farid’s home was, again, to protect the PM, ” said Shahrol.
Sri Ram: Was your evidence in the PAC in any way influenced by this?
Shahrol: Of course. The fact that any mention of Jho was removed and the responsibility for all of the decisions was put on my shoulders.
Sri Ram: So you would take the blame?
Sri Ram: Americans would say you’re “the fall guy”.
Shahrol: Yes. The Malays have a saying: “kambing hitam.”
Earlier, Shahrol disagreed with the suggestion by Najib’s lead counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah that he had committed serious offences involving 1MDB and could have been charged for criminal breach of trust under Section 409 of the Penal Code.
Shafee suggested that due to the offences, Shahrol could not travel outside of the country and that he was black marked by the Immigration as he was regarded as a “dominant accomplice of Jho Low”.
“Correction. I have been able to travel since early 2020 and I disagree that I am an accomplice of Jho. My passport was never taken.
“I did not formally apply but I just found out one day it was removed, ” Shahrol responded, referring to the Immigration black mark.
He also disagreed that the authorities “went soft” on him as to make him the principal witness of the case.
Shahrol, who is the ninth prosecution witness, first took the stand on Sept 23 last year.
Najib, 67, is facing four charges of abusing his position to obtain gratification totalling RM2.28bil in 1MDB funds and 21 counts of money laundering involving the same money.
The hearing before Justice Collin Lawrence Sequerah continues on Monday.