Ex-Auditor-General agreed to remove Jho Low's name from 1MDB audit report to prevent 'manipulation' by Opposition

KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 19): Former Auditor-General (A-G) Tan Sri Ambrin Buang had agreed to omit Low Taek Jho's attendance in a 1Malaysia Development Board (1MDB) board meeting from an audit report on the troubled fund to prevent the Opposition from "manipulating" the matter, a witness testified today.

Tan Sri Ali Hamsa, who was chief secretary to the government, said Ambrin had agreed to the request from Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak's principal private secretary Tan Sri Shukry Mohd Salleh, who highlighted the "sensitivity of the matter".

The presence of the fugitive financier, better known as Jho Low, at the board meeting in relation to the Islamic Medium Term Notes (IMTN) investment was a "red flag" as he had no position or role at 1MDB, which was why it was addressed in the report, said Ali.

The matter was brought up during a meeting the witness convened and chaired on Feb 24, 2016, to address the issues highlighted in the National Audit Department's (NAD) report on 1MDB.

The meeting was held on Najib's instructions, said Ali.

During the meeting, former Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief commissioner Tan Sri Dzulkifli Ahmad said the delay in the issuance of the IMTN under the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA) — the precursor of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) — was a business decision and did not need to be raised in Cabinet meetings.

Dzulkifli was at the meeting as a representative of the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC), while former 1MDB chief executive officer Arul Kanda Kandasamy attended on behalf of the fund, whereas Ambrin and former government sector audit director Saadatul Nafisah represented the National Audit Department (NAD).

Also in attendance were former Ministry of Finance (MoF) deputy secretary-general Datuk Seri Mohamad Isa Hussain, and Asri Hamdin representing the Treasury, while the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) sent Shukry.

According to Ali, Shukry had asked if Najib was duty-bound to tell the Cabinet about the delay in the issuance of the IMTN following then Yang Di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin's approval for the delay.

Ali then sought Ambrin's opinion on the matter; however, Ambrin said he was unsure of the procedure involved in the delay of the issuance.

This is when Ali asked for Dzulkifli's opinion on the matter.

"Taking into account the explanation from the AGC representative, Tan Sri Ambrin Buang agreed to have that issue removed [from the 1MDB Audit Report]," he told the court today.

Later, senior deputy public prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram asked Ali about the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Tan Sri Abu Kassim, who was Dzulkifli's predecessor.

Ali said he understood that Abu Kassim wanted to take leave following a back injury.

Sri Ram then asked if Ali, in his capacity as chief secretary to the government, was asked to recommend a candidate.

Ali responded that while he did not recommend a candidate to replace Abu Kassim, he did suggest that one of Abu Kassim's deputies take over as MACC chief during an unofficial meeting with Najib.

"I thought all meetings with the Prime Minister were official meetings," said Sri Ram.

The lead prosecutor then proceeded to ask if this was within Ali's remit, to which Ali explained that the selection of an MACC chief is made upon the prime minister nominating someone in front of the Agong, but he was allowed to suggest names to the prime minister.

Ali then disclosed that Najib said he would consider his suggestion for MACC chief.

Dzulkifli was made MACC chief on Aug 1, 2016, and he resigned on May 14, 2018.

Najib has been accused of tampering with the final 1MDB audit report in order to gain protection from disciplinary, civil or criminal action before the report was finalised and presented to the Public Accounts Committee.

He allegedly committed the offence at the Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya between Feb 22 and Feb 26, 2016.

The charge, framed under Section 23(1) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009, carries a maximum of 20 years imprisonment and a fine of no less than five times the amount of gratification or RM10,000, whichever is higher.

Meanwhile, Arul Kanda has been charged with abetting Najib in the tampering of the audit report.

For more stories on the 1MDB audit report tampering trial, click here.

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