KUALA LUMPUR (July 24): Joanna Yu Ging Ping, the AmBank relationship liaison manager who managed the accounts of former premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak implicated in the SRC trial, was instructed to quit the bank in 2015.
The matter arose when Najib’s defence counsel Harvinderjit Singh, during the SRC International Sdn Bhd trial yesterday, asked for details of when Yu had left AmBank and where she worked from 1995 to 2015.
Yu meant to explain the reason for her exit, but appointed public prosecutor Datuk V Sithambaram interrupted, cautioning the witness from replying as he alerted the court that what the witness may say involves confidential information between her and the bank.
Sithambaram said he will inform the defence as what had transpired, and asked Harvinderjit to proceed with questions on other areas first.
The incident took place at “around the same time” AmBank was fined by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) — in November 2015.
At the time, AmBank was fined RM53.7 million by BNM following a result of a breach of certain regulations under Section 234 of the Financial Services Act 2013, and Section 245 of the Islamic Financial Services Act 2013, by AmBank (M) Bhd and AmBank Islamic Bhd.
Yu, 48, however testified she did not know the reason for the fine apart for non-compliance concerning reporting to the central bank. “I did not see the letter [for the reason of the fine],” she said.
Yu also clarified two other relationship liaison managers whose names often came up in the ongoing trial — Daniel Lee and Krystale Yap — who also left the banking group at around the same time.
It has been established that Yu was in communication with fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho (Jho Low), former SRC International Sdn Bhd chief executive officer (CEO) and managing director Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil and Yayasan Rakyat 1Malaysia CEO Ung Su Ling, among others, concerning the subsequent transfer of funds from SRC International into Najib’s personal accounts in the bank.
Lee and Yap, juniors to Yu, also managed accounts belonging to SRC.
The previous prosecution witness, AmBank’s Jalan Raja Chulan branch manager R Uma Devi, also testified they had managed AmBank accounts belonging to Najib and 1Malaysia Development Bhd, a subject of a bigger corruption trial involving the former premier.
Prosecution and defence argue over questioning of Yu
Meanwhile, High Court Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali had to defuse an argument between the defence and prosecution which began when Harvinderjit became increasingly aggressive while questioning Yu.
Sithambaram objected to the lawyer’s line and method of questioning, resulting in Harvinderjit calling him “fussy” and Sithambaram retorting that the lawyer was “pathetic”.
At the heart of the cross-examination was the BlackBerry Messenger chat transcript obtained from Yu’s phone seized by BNM in the July 2015 raid on AmBank Jalan Raja Chulan.
Harvinderjit suggested the relationship manager received instructions from Jho Low and formalised them by asking for written instructions from Nik Faisal, who had the mandate to manage Najib’s accounts.
However, she replied that written instructions were what mattered to the bank.
The conversations were between Yu and Jho Low, as well as between Yu and Ung.
Yu agreed that at times, she and Ung referred to Jho Low as “our friend” in the chat, although the term could also refer to SRC’s former finance director Terence Geh, “depending on the context” of the conversation.
At one point, the cross-examination became heated as Harvinderjit and Yu cut into each others’ sentences.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Budiman Lutfi Mohamed stood up, asking Harvinderjit to be “more gentle to the lady witness”.
Harvinderjit replied that he “tried the easy way and now has to use the hard way”, implying Yu was not very cooperative.
When the questioning remained aggressive, Sithambaram stood up, asking Harvinderjit to use terms such as “to confirm” for clarity on whether the questions were objective or open-ended.
“Pedantic,” said Harvinderjit.
“You’re pathetic,” Sithambaram responded.
There was a short silence before Judge Nazlan asked the parties to avoid those types of descriptions.
Only Sithambaram apologised.
Yu’s cross-examination is expected to continue at 9am today.
Najib is facing seven charges of corruption and money laundering over the alleged misappropriation of RM42 million belonging to SRC.
This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on July 24, 2019.