Travel ban possibly to prevent me from ‘disappearing’, says ex-1MDB CEO

Former 1MDB CEO Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi says he could not find employment outside Malaysia because of the travel ban.

KUALA LUMPUR: Former 1MDB chief executive officer Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi told the High Court he suspected he was barred from travelling abroad to prevent individuals with information on the sovereign fund from “disappearing”.

He said this when questioned during Najib Razak’s 1MDB trial on the travel ban imposed on him after the May 9, 2018 general election and how he found out about it.

“There were a lot of media reports at the time, and one of them said I will be arrested,” he said in reply to a question by Najib’s lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.

“I checked the Immigration Department website to make sure I was under a travel ban. The website said ‘sila rujuk kepada pejabat imigresen terdekat’ (please refer to the nearest immigration office),” he said.

Shahrol said he was not informed by the authorities on why he was barred from flying abroad.

“I was part of the board of directors and management team and it was clear to my mind that it was related to 1MDB,” he said.

Shafee: Were you regarded as a flight risk? Or they (authorities) suspected you had committed an offence.

Shahrol: I don’t know.

Asked by Shafee whether the travel ban had caused him inconvenience, he said it meant he could not find employments outside Malaysia.

He said his last job was at Malaysia Petroleum Resources Corporation (MPRC) and he left his job on July 4, 2018.

Shahrol also told the court he had known fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho from 2007, when the Penang-born businessman was his client when Shahrol worked at Accenture, an American consulting firm here.

He said Low, commonly known as Jho Low, obtained his number from his Stanford University roommate.

Low, he said, sent him an SMS informing him that he wanted to have a look at the banking system at Utama Banking Group (UBG), which had merged with RHB Bank in 2002.

“The exact words he used was ‘professionalise the investment process in UBG’,” he said, adding that Low sought Accenture’s service to identify all investment opportunities the banks were involved with.

Asked by Shafee what he thought about Low, Shahrol said he was “always late”, drawing laughter from the crowd.

“He is also very well spoken and he understands things and got them done quickly,” he said.

Shahrol also told the court that Low contacted him at the end of 2008 and asked him if he was interested to join a funding company.

“I said I am always interested to explore new opportunities. And I also asked him how Accenture can help this funding company.

“There was no response from him until March 2009 when Low asked me to go to Istana Terengganu here on a Friday. It later became clear that I would take up the position of CEO,” he said, adding that he was given his letter of appointment as CEO of Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA) on March 23, 2009.

He said the job required him to listen and understand the mandate given by company’s directors and management as well as to execute the mandate.

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.