KUALA LUMPUR (July 18): Former AmBank managing director (MD) Cheah Tek Kuang told the High Court here yesterday that fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho was at Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s personal home in Jalan Langgak Duta, when he went there in 2011 to help open the former premier’s bank accounts.
Cheah, 72, who is the 50th prosecution witness, told the court that he was given the green light by AmBank chairman Tan Sri Azman Hashim, and therefore went to Najib’s Duta home. He was met upon arrival by Low, better known as Jho Low.
“Once I arrived at Najib’s residence, I met with Jho Low whom I have previously met. I was then taken into the residence by Jho Low, who introduced me to Najib, and Jho Low also informed him that I was from AmBank.
“Najib and I proceeded to the guest room while I saw Jho Low waiting at a different part of the residence,” he told the court.
Cheah said he explained to Najib the procedures for opening the accounts and the need to follow regulations.
He added that he gave Najib the blank application forms and witnessed them being signed before him.
Cheah testified that he also informed then Bank Negara Malaysia governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz that Najib was opening the savings and current accounts with AmBank, and she told him that she had no objections for AmBank to do so.
“[However,] she reminded that the opening of the said accounts [was] to be made following the banking rules and regulations,” said Cheah.
Najib subsequently opened a basic savings account 211-002-00904801 on Jan 18, 2011 and a current account 211-202-200969-4 on Jan 13, 2011. Cheah said the former premier also opened two credit card accounts — a Visa Platinum and a Mastercard Platinum.
Cheah earlier told the court that AmBank customer relationship manager Joanna Yu had informed him that Najib had expressed interest to open savings and current accounts with AmBank.
He said before going to Najib’s Duta house, he contacted Najib’s principal private secretary, Datuk Seri Azlin Alias, on where and when to meet the former premier.
He was testifying in Najib’s trial of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering involving RM42 million of SRC International Sdn Bhd’s funds.
The former AmBank MD told the court that the AmPrivate Banking-MR code name was used for Najib’s current account as Jho Low made a request to Yu for the account to be dealt with the strictest confidence.
“I only know that there were discussions to use a code name for the protection of information and to maintain sensitivity. I also subsequently informed the Bank Negara governor of this matter,” he said.
The witness also told the court that AmBank’s involvement with 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) began in 2009, when 1MDB became a corporate client of the bank.
During examination-in-chief by Deputy Public Prosecutor Datuk Suhaimi Ibrahim, Cheah said that he was appointed to Retirement Fund Inc’s (KWAP) investment panel in 2007 and recalled that KWAP approved two loans totalling RM4 billion given in 2011 and 2012.
When cross-examined by Najib’s co-counsel Harvinderjit Singh, Cheah admitted knowing Jho Low prior to meeting the former premier in Jalan Duta in 2011.
“I met Jho Low at a lunch meeting to know the person better considering Jho Low’s several dealings with AmBank previously,” he said.
Cheah admitted that Najib told him that he wanted to open the accounts as he would be receiving donations from Saudi Arabia and the witness reminded him that he would have to follow rules and regulations.
Harvinderjit then asked Cheah about his exchange of messages with Yu via BlackBerry, including her feeling “relieved” at the successful “transfer out” of US$620 million from the relevant accounts.
The hearing continues today before Justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali.
This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on July 18, 2019.