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Ex-1MDB CEO says pressured by Najib to change auditor

KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 15): 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) ex-chief executive officer (CEO) Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman told the High Court here on Monday that former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had pressured the Malaysian government-owned company to remove KPMG as 1MDB's auditor after KPMG refused to conclude the audit of 1MDB's 2013 financial statements.

Mohd Hazem said Deloitte subsequently replaced KPMG as 1MDB's auditor.

"KPMG did not want to close it (the audit). We were pressured by Najib to solve this and the only way to do this was to change auditor.

"Pressure came from Najib and I was called to his office to ask about the status of the audit," Mohd Hazem said during the witness re-examination by lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram before High Court Judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah.

Mohd Hazem said he was not in any position to disobey Najib's instructions.

The hearing of the case, known as the 1MDB-Tanore trial, dates back to 2018.

According to news reports on Sept 20, 2018 about the 1MDB-Tanore trial, Najib on that day pleaded not guilty to 25 charges linked to abuse of power and money laundering over hundreds of millions of dollars of funds received in his personal bank accounts.

It was reported that the charges included four counts of abuse of power involving RM2.28 billion in 1MDB funds.

News reports indicated that prosecutors also charged Najib with 21 counts of money laundering. The list included nine counts of receiving illegal proceeds, five counts of using illegal proceeds and seven counts of transferring the proceeds to other entities.

"Prosecutors, describing the abuse of power charges, said Najib used his positions as the prime minister, finance minister and chairman of 1MDB to obtain funds totalling about RM2.3 billion between 2011 and 2014.

"The money laundering charges describe how Najib received RM2.1 billion from Tanore Finance Corp, which US authorities said was used to siphon money from 1MDB," CNA reported on Sept 20, 2018.

As such, Najib's trial has been referred to as the 1MDB-Tanore trial, which is being heard before Sequerah until today.

At the High Court on Monday (Nov 15, 2021), Sri Ram asked Mohd Hazem whether the latter personally benefitted from 1MDB money transactions which ended up in Najib's bank account.

Mohd Hazem said he did not benefit from the 1MDB money transactions.

Sri Ram: You were asked about payment irregularities in several transactions from 1MDB. Did one sen go into your account and did you financially benefit from any of those transactions?

Mohd Hazem: No.

Sri Ram then went through with Mohd Hazem several transactions involving two loans 1MDB took from Deutsche Bank AG.

The two loans comprised a US$250 million (about RM1.04 billion) loan to buy back Aabar Investments options while the other was a US$975 million loan to refinance the first loan.

From the US$975 million loan drawdown, RM45 million ended up in Najib's AmPrivate Banking account bearing numbers ending in "880".

Sri Ram asked Mohd Hazem about the AmPrivate Banking account.

Sri Ram: Does the account (ending in 880) belong to you?

Mohd Hazem: No.

Sri Ram: You told your lordship that this isn’t your account?

Mohd Hazem: Yes.

Upon completion of the re-examination by Sri Ram, Mohd Hazem was released from the witness stand.

The trial before Sequerah resumes on Tuesday (Nov 16) morning.

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