Saturday, May 15

TIA was Jho Low’s idea and Najib’s ‘baby’, court told


KUALA LUMPUR: The High Court was yesterday told that the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA) project, an idea mooted by fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho or Jho Low, was Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s ‘baby’.

Najib’s former special officer Datuk Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin, 43, said Jho Low told him that TIA’s operations would be based on the Mubadala (Sovereign Wealth Fund) concept, modelled after UAE ‘s investment company in Abu Dhabi, as instructed by Najib who regarded the project as his ‘baby’.

In an earlier proceeding, the court heard that TIA became 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) on Sept 25, 2009 after Najib signed a form to amend the name of the company.

Explaining his involvement in TIA, the prosecution’s eighth witness in Najib’s 1MDB trial said Jho Low was not very close with Datuk Azlin Alias (Najib’s former principal private secretary) while he (witness) had experience in working at Bank Negara and was knowledgeable in economics.

“At the end of 2008, I received a message from Jho Low via Black Berry Messenger (BBM) that said: ‘I’ve got approval or blessing from Datuk Seri Najib for you to join meeting for TIA’.

I was told to join the meeting on the proposed TIA, on behalf of Najib who was then Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

Reading out his witness statement, Amhari Efendi said the meeting was held at Istana Terengganu in Kuala Lumpur and chaired by Tuanku Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin who was the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong at the time.

“That was my first time at facing Tuanku Mizan.

Also present during the meeting was Jho Low and Datuk Aziz, the husband of Tengku Rahimah Almarhum Sultan Mahmud who is also Tuanku Mizan’s younger sister.

“While we were waiting for Tuanku Mizan’s arrival, Jho Low said to me that he was Tuanku Mizan’s adviser,” he said.

Elaborating on the meeting, the witness said it was casual and he was introduced to Tuanku Mizan as DPM (Najib)’s special officer.

“During the meeting, we only discussed unofficially. Jho Low mentioned about setting up TIA. Tuanku Mizan took note of the proposal but left it at that.

“He did not say anything negative about the proposal. We left after the meeting.

Najib was not with us during the meeting,” he said.

He said he was briefed on the TIA which involved fund raising, by Jho Low himself at the latter’s house at Apartment 3, Kia Peng, where Jho Low used a whiteboard in the kitchen to outline the proposal.

“Only I and Jho Low were there. At the time, I only understood the concept roughly but the approaches in issuance of bonds were vague to me as I do not have an investment banking background. I was also not adept at fund raising and investment structuring.

“What I understood about the concept at the time was that TIA would create a fund through issuance of bonds for overseas investment.

It was expected to reap profits for the company, which would be channelled back to the people through government community service programmes,” he said.

The witness said Jho Low also told him that the funds for TIA would be returned to the country in the form of profit.

In the process of TIA’s establishment, Amhari Efendi said he attended one meeting with five others at the Employees Provident Fund building in Petaling Jaya in 2008, that was chaired by Tan Sri Azlan Zainol.

They discussed about issuance of bonds for TIA.

In another meeting, the discussion was about Federal Government guarantee for TIA.

“I also attended another TIA meeting in May 2009 which was held at the Parliament Building conference room. I was asked to attend the meeting on short notice by Datuk Seri Ab Aziz Kassim (Najib’s then Principal Private Secretary).

“It was also attended by a number of Terengganu government representatives including their exco. When I arrived at the conference room, the meeting had already started.

What I can summarise of the meeting is that the Terengganu state government was not satisfied with the TIA structure,” he said.

According to the witness, the Terengganu state government was dissatisfied because there was no one to represent its interests in TIA in regard to decision-making.

Aside from that, Menteri Besar Incorporated was to play no active role in the Board of Directors.

“After the meeting, I referred Ab Aziz to the matters that were discussed and he took note and waited for further instructions from Najib.

“Jho Low and Azlin did tell me that the establishment of TIA was an idea brought up by Jho Low and agreed to by Najib.

My presence at Istana Terengganu to meet Tuanku Mizan affirmed this.

It cannot be without Najib’s approval and blessing.

Najib wanted to make TIA a special vehicle for strategic investment oversees”, he said.

Amhari Efendi said Jho Low acted as the proposer and management facilitator and members of TIA’s board of directors were appointed with Najib’s knowledge and approval.

Najib, 66, is facing four charges of abusing his position to corruptly obtain RM2.3 billion of 1MDB funds and 21 counts of money laundering related to the money.

The Pekan member of parliament allegedly committed the four offences at AmIslamic Bank Berhad, Jalan Raja Chulan branch, Bukit Ceylon here between Feb 24, 2011 and Dec 19, 2014, and the 21 charges, between March 22, 2013 and Aug 30, 2013, at the same place.

Hearing continues today before justice Collin Lawrence Sequerah. — Bernama