There was “no choice” for Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak’s ex-aide but to comply with his boss’ orders, even when it meant playing a part in covering up the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal at the time.
Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin told the High Court yesterday (5 Sep) that he was under immense “pressure with the situation”, and even contemplated resigning from his post, as he found the orders “very challenging”.
“Furthermore, he was the prime minister of Malaysia,” Malay Mail quoted him as saying in his witness statement.
Illustrating his claim, Amhari recounted how Najib had instructed him to visit China in 2016 under the guise of “strengthening bilateral ties”.
Despite being suspicious about the real purpose of the trip – which turned out to be linked to 1MDB’s loan from Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC) – Amhari followed through with Najib’s instructions.
He told the court: “I was worried I would be involved and associated in the plans of Datuk Seri Najib and Jho (Low) if it (the trip to China) was meant to cover up the losses of 1MDB funds and the repayment of debts to IPIC that involves misappropriation of 1MDB (funds) or the preparation of political funding”.
Amhari said that while the visit was purportedly intended to improve economic cooperation between Malaysia and China according to Najib’s brief, he described the instructions were “confidential”.
The instructions were at odds with what Najib’s alleged co-conspirator and fugitive financier Low Taek Jho had communicated to him, Amhari claimed.
“Despite that, on the contrary and similar to what was shown to me by Jho (Low) through his talking points and actions plans, this agreement and the joint venture was an investment that would aid in repaying 1MDB’s bailouts, such as their debts to IPIC,” he said.
The Malaysian Reserve reported today (6 Sep) that Amhari, the prosecution’s eighth witness, also claimed that Low had supplied “official documents” and talking points to him and his supervisor Azlin Alias to silence any speculation surrounding the 1MDB scandal.
Amhari also testified that Low had instructed him and the late Azlin, the latter of whom was Najib’s chief private secretary, to open a “just in case and standby” overseas bank account each, and that the money was meant to fund Najib’s political campaign leading up to the 13th General Election.
When lead defence counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah brought up the issue of verifying Azlin’s involvement, Amhari insisted that any other party privy to Azlin would give a similar account of events.
“Azlin is not here to defend himself on any allegations. In an English adage, a dead man tells nothing. In Malay, “orang dah meninggal tak boleh cerita lagi” … It is easy to blame dead people. Do you agree?” Shafee questioned.
“Yes, but I think if anyone was to ask around, he will get the same answer,” Amhari replied.
Amhari, however, admitted that he did not verify Low’s instructions to open a bank account with BSI in Singapore to allegedly store election funds amounting to US$800,000, and that he did not obtain Bank Negara Malaysia’s (BNM)’s permission to open the foreign bank account.
The Edge also observed that Amhari, who had worked with BNM for seven years and has even received a scholarship from the central bank, claimed that he was not well-versed with either the Banking and Financial Institution Act 1989 (Bafia) nor the Financial Services Act and the Islamic Financial Services Act 2013.
“We (Azlin and I) went to Singapore together and followed the orders given by [Jho] Low. At that time, I was under Azlin and what he does, I follow,” said Amhari, adding that the banker even went to the hotel where he and his supervisor stayed for the purpose of opening the account.
“It was not clear to me that I needed the blessings [from Najib] as he was the minister of finance, and he would be well-versed [in the procedures].
“By he, I mean Datuk Seri Najib and also Azlin who were well aware of the necessity of what was needed to open the accounts,” added Amhari, as observed by The Edge.
While Amhari claimed that he did not know as to whether the account was meant to be a personal or a business one, he agreed with Shafee that a shell company named Aerosphere Ltd was listed in the bank documents, with Amhari being listed as the owner of the company.
When asked as to why Amhari did not bring up the above issues directly with Najib despite meeting the then-premier several times a week, he said: “I can’t. I had to listen to Azlin. In the civil service, I have to follow the rules. I have to report to my direct superior.”
“It would be embarrassing for me to do otherwise unless Azlin told me to check,” he told the senior lawyer during his cross-examination,” The Edge Financial Daily quoted him as saying.
The Malaysian Reserve reported that Amhari received a monthly salary of RM55,000 during his tenure as 1MDB’s director, whilst also being paid RM25,000 in the Prime Minister’s Office for aiding Najib’s digital communications.
The Edge reported that Amhari received RM75,000 per month as the special officer to Najib, with RM55,000 per month from his position as a director in Khazanah Nasional Bhd, and RM20,000 from firm ORB Solutions Sdn Bhd for aiding Najib’s digital communications, where Amhari was its largest shareholder.
Najib currently faces four charges related to abuse of power and money laundering in the High Court.
He was accused of misusing his position as then-Finance Minister and Prime Minister to graft RM2.3 billion in 1MDB funds and 21 counts of money laundering involving the same amount of money on separate, multiple occasions between 2011 and 2013.