KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 28): Former Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang had the impression that the government was "worried" about the final draft of the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) audit report before it was presented to the parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the High Court heard today.
Ambrin said this when asked by senior deputy public prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram about what he felt when former chief secretary to the government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa held the fateful Feb 24, 2016 meeting between top government officials and 1MDB about issues concerning the report.
The recording of the meeting was played again today for Ambrin, and revealed that Ali had called for the meeting to protect the reputation of then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Besides Ambrin and Ali, the meeting was attended by 1MDB's then chief executive officer Arul Kanda Kandasamy, Najib's chief private secretary Tan Sri Shukry Mohd Salleh, as well as representatives from the National Audit Department (NAD), Treasury and the Attorney General's Chamber.
By the end of the meeting, it was agreed that amendments would be made to the original report, which would then be destroyed.
The transcript of Ali's opening statement during the meeting as heard from the audio recording is as follows:
"We should take immediate action against the individuals involved. If there are any complaints, and then, the more we expose [the issues in 1MDB], the more difficult for us to defend especially the YAB PM. His name will be tarnished, if his name is tarnished then nationally we are tarnished also, politically and economically.
"So that's why I thought we can go through some of the areas of concern since Tan Sri Ambrin has kindly agreed that we can bring Arul here, as the representative from 1MDB... so we can thrash out certain areas.
"We are looking more from the impact to the country, and our leadership, you know from that angle.
"I think Tan Sri Ambrin and the team are also interested to take care about the welfare of the nation but we don't want people who have committed wrongdoings to escape.
"We need to put those facts on the side and leave it to the police or someone to investigate or AG to charge this type of individuals."
Sri Ram: What impact did it [Ali's opening statement] have on your mind, how did you understand that?
Ambrin: I think the message from his side is to say that the government is very worried about the content of our audit report, and that there are certain issues that need to be discussed and amended. Based on the opening statement, it was very clear to us that the government was very worried of our report.
Sri Ram: When he said his name will be tarnished, what did you understand? That your report will have an impact on whom?
Ambrin: As the chief secretary to the government, I presume he was speaking on behalf of the government.
Sri Ram: And to protect whose name?
Ambrin: To defend especially the prime minister.
Sri Ram: As far as you are concerned, were you worried about the report?
Ambrin: I was worried more about being able to present our report to the PAC. We were all ready to defend our report to the PAC.
Sri Ram: Did you have a political agenda?
Ambrin: Why should I? I have no political agenda.
Sri Ram: You were the Auditor-General doing your job.
Ambrin has constitutional role to perform
Ambrin further explained that as the Auditor-General, he is empowered to give his professional opinions on the audit report, based on information gathered by his audit team.
These opinions were based on facts and they should be respected by the auditee, he added.
Ambrin: Sometimes, people don't understand what is the role of the NAD. As the NAD, we look at things based on facts, and these facts must be verified by supporting documents.
Sri Ram: And you defended those facts?
Ambrin: I defended those facts and the other thing is that facts are very important for audit. And based on facts, the Auditor-General is empowered to give his opinion. You may not agree with our opinion, but you must allow the Auditor-General to make these opinions based on the facts produced by the auditors.
Sri Ram: Just to make it absolutely clear, your appointment is constitutional, isn't it?
Ambrin: Yes. I was appointed by the Agong.
Sri Ram: Which means that your appointment was under the Constitution, you have a role to perform under the Constitution. Do you consider you were performing constitutional role in this case?
Ambrin: We did!
Najib is charged with abusing his power to amend the final 1MDB audit report before it was submitted to the PAC to protect himself from disciplinary, civil and criminal actions while Arul Kanda has been charged with abetting the former premier.
If convicted, they face a maximum jail term of 20 years and a fine of at least five times the amount of gratification, or RM10,000, whichever is higher.