Jho Low kept low profile to prevent political attacks against Najib, says witness

Fugitive financier Low Taek Jho did not want his involvement in 1MDB to threaten Najib Razak’s position, the High Court was told today.

KUALA LUMPUR: Former 1MDB chief executive officer Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi told the High Court today that Low Taek Jho’s involvement in the sovereign fund was kept low profile to prevent political attacks against Najib Razak in Umno.

He said Low, commonly known as Jho Low, had told him there were “envious feelings” within Umno over his “influence on and access to” the former prime minister.

“It made sense to me that Low said his involvement in 1MDB needed to be low key so that it would not threaten Datuk Seri’s (Najib) position.

“This was the understanding impressed upon me from 2010 onwards,” he said when asked by Najib’s lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, if there was a “problem” having Low as a 1MDB official.

Shafee had commented that “it is not that Jho Low had an infectious disease and he cannot come to office”.

Shahrol said Low informed him that it would be bad for the perception against Najib if the Penang businessman was officially appointed to 1MDB.

However, Shafee rebuked him, saying “the whole world knows Jho Low was in 1MDB”.

The former CEO said he disagreed. “Very few people knew Low was assisting Datuk Seri between 2009 and 2011 and Low played a big role in the prime minister’s relationship with the Middle Easterners and Chinese,” he said.

Shahrol told the court that Low usually communicated with him on BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) as the mobile application was more secure.

“We never communicated through the normal channel. Low said ‘we don’t know who we can trust, we must protect the boss and keep it secure’,” he said.

Shafee asked Shahrol whether he knew Najib’s former special officer, Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin, had told the court about receiving US$800,000 in a BSI Singapore Bank account and that Low gave him US$200,000 as a “loan” to buy a house.

“I only read it in the media. I was not a beneficiary to any shell company,” Shahrol said.

‘I was told not to challenge PAC’s findings’

Earlier, Shahrol said he was asked not to challenge the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) findings in 2016 that held him liable for transactions related to the sovereign fund.

He said he was summoned to the bi-partisan parliamentary panel, then headed by Rompin MP Hasan Ariffin, to give statements about money that 1MDB paid for various projects and joint ventures during the time he was CEO from 2009 to 2012.

Shahrol said he was on “team Najib’ and only played his role, when questioned by Shafee on the PAC findings that said he must be investigated for various decisions he made for the company.

He also said the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the police recorded his statements on 1MDB between 2015 and 2016.

“They asked me to declare my assets and properties, which I did. I do not have foreign bank accounts except a unit trust fund account in Singapore,” he said.

He said his primary bank account with Maybank was frozen in June last year “under the orders of the task force”.

“I only found out my account was frozen when I tried to pay my bills online. I asked MACC and they told me it was instructions from the task force, adding that the authorities decided to free the account a few weeks later.

Shahrol said MACC did not make any threats against him, except saying that it would file a civil lawsuit against him for alleged negligence.

Najib is standing trial on 25 counts of money laundering and abuse of power charges over alleged 1MDB funds amounting to RM2.28 billion deposited in his AmBank accounts between February 2011 and December 2014.

The hearing before High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah continues tomorrow.