1MDB-Tanore lawsuit: Najib opened five private bank accounts at Ambank in two years

AMBANK executives last week described how former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak became a client of the bank in 2011 after opening two initial private bank accounts – a savings account and a checking account – plus two credit card accounts, before a huge donation he claimed came from the Saudi royal family. Two years later, he closed the two accounts and opened three more checking accounts.

Former AmBank Client Relations Manager Joanna Yu Ging Ping and former Managing Director Cheah Tek Kuang, who were instrumental in setting up Najib’s initial accounts, detailed how AmBank’s accounts have been opened and how the bank went about maintaining the secrecy of the accounts as they were asked to ensure the “strictest confidence”. Moreover, Najib was a politically exposed person.

Incidentally, Yu and Cheah also testified at Najib’s 2019 CBC trial, in which the former prime minister was found guilty on all seven counts. Najib is currently in prison serving his 12-year sentence.

Last week, Yu told the High Court that fugitive financier Low Taek Jho (Jho Low) was instrumental in helping Najib open the accounts because it was Jho Low who approached her to facilitate the opening of the account. of Najib, possibly leveraging his working relationship with Yu, whom he first met when she was assigned by his superior at the bank to handle loans for one of his many businesses, Majestic Masterpiece Sdn Bhd.

“I first met Jho Low when Chan Wan Seong assigned me to manage Majestic Masterpiece Sdn Bhd’s loans in the year 2007,” she said as she read out her witness statement in front of her. the tribunal.

Majestic Masterpiece was seeking the loans to acquire the shares of two companies, namely Loh & Loh Corp Bhd and Putrajaya Perdana Bhd, as part of a takeover of the companies.

Majestic Masterpiece is owned by Wynton Private Equity Group and Abu Dhabi Kuwait Malaysia Investment Corporation (ADKMIC), and Jho Low was one of Wynton’s directors.

Following the successful takeover of the companies, Yu became Jho Low’s primary contact for matters involving 1MDB. Yu also testified that shortly after the acquisitions, Jho Low approached the bank again to inform it of his intention to establish a sovereign wealth fund and asked AmBank to put together a bond issuance proposal.

The sovereign wealth fund in question was the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA), which would later be transferred to the federal government under Najib and renamed 1MDB after the state government rejected the idea of ​​such a fund.

Yu arranged and attended an initial meeting between Jho Low, former 1MDB director Casey Tang, former 1MDB CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi and AmBank officers Teng Chean Choy, Seohan Soo and Chan to discuss the details and implementation of the obligation.

At this meeting, Jho Low and his cohorts asked the bank to provide a proposal for the issuance of RM10 billion bonds, with a term of 30 years.

Jho Low was told by bank executives at this meeting that a RM10 billion bond issue was too big and that a 30-year bond term in Malaysia was unprecedented. Yu said several suggestions were discussed at the meeting to raise funds, and among them were getting a government guarantee for the bond, as well as reducing the size and duration of the issue. .

Eventually, Jho Low opted for a RM5 billion bond guaranteed by the government for a period of 30 years, with the funds supposed to invest in a joint venture called 1MDB PetroSaudi Ltd. The money was to be paid into the joint venture’s account. venture capital company. PetroSaudi International (PSI) was to take a 60% stake in the joint venture by injecting certain assets, the value of which ultimately proved doubtful. The money raised was to represent 1MDB’s contribution for its 40% stake.

Yu detailed how shortly after the agreement to raise the RM5 billion Islamic Medium Term Notes (IMTN) in 2011, Jho Low approached her at Najib’s request to inform him that he wanted to open accounts with AmBank. Yu felt that former general manager Cheah Tek Kuang should meet with the then prime minister to facilitate the opening of accounts as he was a senior bank official and should manage a VIP like Najib.

Cheah testified that he was hesitant to come to Najib’s home to facilitate the opening of the account, but felt obligated to do so. He said he was nervous about being in Najib’s house as he was “generally uncomfortable” around prominent figures, and he left the house immediately after facilitating the signing of documents.

Cheah also clarified that it was Jho Low who made the introductions between Najib and Cheah at Najib’s Langgak Duta residence. After making the introductions, Jho Low went to another room in the house, leaving Cheah and Najib to sort out the paperwork for opening the accounts.

Cheah revealed that Najib told him he wanted to open the accounts as he expected a donation of $100 million from the Saudi royal family and that the information was passed on to him despite him not didn’t ask for it. Yu said that after the accounts were opened, Jho Low told him he had to be treated with the “strictest confidentiality”. Yu then spoke to the bank and the bank came up with code names for Najib’s accounts – “AmPrivate Banking-MR” and “AmPrivate Banking-1MY”.

Yu said codenames are used to protect information and keep accounts sensitive, adding that these codenames are used more for corporate projects and not for individuals.

Najib’s only savings account and a checking account, as well as two credit card accounts – a Visa Platinum and a Mastercard Platinum – were opened at the Raja Chulan branch of AmBank, as were the following three other checking accounts .

Yu also testified that Najib had appointed Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil – a former investment manager at 1MDB and now a fugitive – as “authorized personnel” to manage the accounts and deal with the bank on Najib’s behalf.

She added that while Nik Faisal was authorized personnel, he had limited powers in dealing with accounts, such as directing the transfer of funds between Najib’s Ambank accounts. He had no authority to make transfers to third-party accounts or make cash withdrawals.

“All instructions relating to third-party payments and transfers, as well as all checks drawn on the three current accounts, can only be authorized [via Najib’s] signing,” she explained.

The trial’s lead prosecutor, Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, asked: With respect to the transactions between the bank and Najib, and carried out through Nik Faisal, who would be liable to the bank, despite this warrant? Say, Najib’s account was debited RM10 million, who would you look to get the RM10 million back?

Yu: Datuk Seri Najib.

Sri Ram: Despite the mandate, is the mandate holder personally responsible for his account?

Yu: Yes.

Yu also verified a subsequent letter from Najib to the bank in June 2013 to close two of his earlier accounts (ending in 481 and 694). The letter was signed by Najib himself.

The letter was forwarded to her by Nik Faisal and when she informed him that there were still funds in the two initial accounts, he told her that Najib intended to open three more accounts, ending by 880, 98 and 906.

Regarding the opening of the three new accounts, Nik Faisal collected the blank account opening forms from his team and returned them later with Najib’s signature.

“At the time Nik Faisal submitted these forms, he informed me that he was also the person responsible for managing the accounts. I then informed Nik Faisal that the bank would need a mandate letter from Datuk Seri Najib granting Nik Faisal the mandate for these new accounts,” Yu said, adding that Nik Faisal then returned with the required letter from Najib.

Yu testified that when she was in charge of dealing with Najib’s accounts, large amounts of foreign funds flowed into the accounts, especially 694 and 880.

She said Nik Faisal confirmed that the funds were “gifts” and that she was informed by the Treasury Division that all foreign funds had been reported to Bank Negara Malaysia.

The prosecution claims that $700m of the RM5bn collected from IMTN was diverted to the account of a company called Good Star Ltd, which had nothing to do with the joint venture 1MDB PetroSaudi Ltd, but was more of a front company. in the Seychelles created by Jho Low.

Good Star has been incorrectly described as PSI’s wholly owned subsidiary.

From Good Star, Najib received a sum of US$20 million – then the equivalent of RM60 million – into his newly created AmBank accounts.

The trial continues on November 7 and Yu is still taking the stand.