KUALA LUMPUR: Former chief executive officer of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi yesterday insisted there were plans to build a luxury hotel on Pulau Bidong within the 1MDB project pipeline even though he never set foot on the island off Terengganu.
Testifying in former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s trial involving 1MDB funds, Shahrol Azral, 49, told the High Court he was shown some plans of the property project at an early stage of the purported joint venture with Mubadala Group of Abu Dhabi.
Questioned by Najib’s lead counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Shahrol Azral said he has seen a diagram of Bidong Island, particularly where the luxury hotel was going to be built and remembers having a discussion about the project with Mubadala Real Estate and Hospitality chief executive officer John Thomas.
“At that time I thought it was a real project,” the ninth prosecution witness said on the 19th day of the trial.
Muhammad Shafee then queried the witness if he subsequently changed his mind on the existence of the project, to which the witness replied, “Until now nothing has happened over there.” Muhammad Shafee: They didn’t even conduct a survey (of the land) in the project proposal.
Shahrol Azral: I thought the proposal already included some survey.
Muhammad Shafee: Did you go to Bidong?
Shahrol Azral: No.
Muhammad Shafee: You as the CEO never went to Bidong?
Shahrol Azral: Never.
Muhammad Shafee then cited a publication in The Edge Market produced on May 25, 2009, quoting a Bloomberg article stating Terengganu Investment Authority Berhad (TIA), the precursor to 1MDB, and Mubadala Development Co in a joint statement had discussed opportunities in the oil and gas industries and the latter had expressed interest in real estate opportunities.
Muhammad Shafee: In that article, Mubadala, however, said it had not agreed to invest in a US$1.8 billion (RM6.26 billion) Malaysian property project in Terengganu.
The Mubadala statement was issued in response to your statement?
Shahrol Azral: I disagree.
If you read the sentence I guess they wanted to clarify that they have not agreed to that amount (US$1.8 billion).
Muhammad Shafee: But this is what Mubadala said…the statement was issued pertaining to your statement about Pulau Bidong.
Shahrol Azral: But I also met with Mubadala Real Estate and Hospitality CEO.
Muhammad Shafee: Was there a decision made?
Shahrol Azral: No, because it was at an early stage and the reason why they could not invest was because they don’t have the money.
When Muhammad Shafee suggested that both parties had never signed any Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding the project, the witness answered, “Correct”.
The former 1MDB CEO also testified he has no evidence that Najib knew about Jho Low’s misconduct regarding the Pulau Bidong development proposal.
Muhammad Shafee: There has been no evidence.
Did you have any idea that Jho Low (Low Taek Jho) made secret profits back then?
Shahrol Azral: I have no idea.
Muhammad Shafee: Given what you know now, can you say that the (then) PM was involved in this?
Shahrol Azral: I don’t know. I can’t speculate.
Muhammad Shafee: I put it to you that Jho Low is a rogue who operated on his own because he conned everybody.
He even conned you!
Shahrol Azral: I don’t have enough information.
Najib is charged with four counts of using his position to obtain bribes of RM2.3 billion in 1MDB funds and 21 counts of money laundering involving the same money.
The trial before Justice Collin Lawrence Sequerah continues today. — Bernama