Jho Low used similar company names to siphon funds from 1MDB, court told

Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi is currently being cross-examined at prime minister Najib Razak’s 1MDB trial.

KUALA LUMPUR: Fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, had deliberately used a naming convention for offshore shell companies set up by him to resemble well-established firms in his conspiracy to siphon funds from 1MDB, the High Court was told today.

This was suggested by counsel Wan Aizuddin Wan Mohammed, who is representing Najib Razak, when cross-examining former 1MDB CEO Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi at the former prime minister’s 1MDB trial.

The witness agreed with the lawyer’s suggestion that it was Jho Low’s habit of masking the names of companies but he could not comment on Jho Low’s motive behind that.

The issue of company names came about when the witness was asked by Wan Aizuddin whether he was familiar with a private company called Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation (ADMIC), which bore the same acronym as Jho Low’s Abu Dhabi Malaysian Investment Co Ltd (ADMIC Ltd).

ADMIC is a private investment firm owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and British Sky Broadcasting, while the Jho Low-initiated ADMIC Ltd was supposed to be the special purpose vehicle for a 1MDB joint venture.

ADMIC Ltd is a company that was originally registered as Malaysian Abu Dhabi Investment Co (MADIC) on March 5, 2013, but the name was changed to Abu Dhabi Malaysian Investment Co Ltd on March 12 the same year.

Wan Aizuddin: Do you know how this change of name happened?

Shahrol: There is a funny story behind it. Jho Low told me that the Abu Dhabi guys were sensitive that “Malaysia” came first in the name before “Abu Dhabi”. So I said “ikut suka mereka lah (up to them)”. Jho Low said they would like to do this (change the name); I said I have no problem.

Wan Aizuddin: I’m suggesting that the change of name (from MADIC) to ADMIC was for the purpose to confuse people … to show that ADMIC could be the (media investment firm) ADMIC incorporated in Abu Dhabi.

Shahrol: I have no comment on that.

Wan Aizuddin: I put it to you that his change of name was a way by Jho Low to perfect his plan in order for him to embezzle billions of dollars from 1MDB.

Shahrol: I cannot comment on his motive.

Wan Aizuddin: But you agree he was in the habit (of coining similar names)?

Shahrol: I agree.

When asked whether he knew the purpose of having an offshore company for the joint venture and if there was any benefit for the company to be offshore, the 50-year-old witness said he did not query Jho Low on the matter.

Yesterday, the court heard that Jho Low and his associates had incorporated Aabar BVI Ltd in British Virgin Island to be similar to Aabar Investment PJS, which was the real subsidiary of International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC).

Duped by the similarity of the names, 1MDB then had disbursed almost US$600 million to Aabar BVI for the purpose of land development in the Kuala Lumpur International Financial District (now known as TRX).

It was reported that Jho Low also set up Blackstone Asia Real Estate Partners, a shell company with a similar name to real estate private equity firm Blackstone Real Estate.

Najib, 67, is facing four charges of using his position to obtain bribes totalling RM2.3 billion from 1MDB funds and 21 charges of money laundering involving the same amount.

The trial before Collin Lawrence Sequerah continues tomorrow.