There is nothing like a coup to distract attention away from courtroom matters. However, the closing days of former premier Najib Razak’s SRC trial explains most of the politics going on over the past few days with more fascinating evidence coming to light.
Najib’s far-fetched tale of how a ‘Middle Eastern Royal’, supposedly a proxy for the late King of Saudi Arabia, donated the RM2.6 billion that ended up in his bank account, has always been sketchy to say the least. The US Dept of Justice on the other hand had clearly traced the money as having been stolen from 1MDB.
The closing days of the defence this week saw Najib’s lawyers seeking to show how the Saudi donation story was ‘proven’ true by producing the evidence of MACC officers who had flown to Riyadh to supposedly authenticate the documentation and indeed the identity of the donor himself, back in 2015.
What actually emerged was a farcical carry on, orchestrated by Najib’s allies linked to PetroSaudi, to provide a fig leaf for the unbelievable claims that the then prime minister was making.
It emerged that the visit was drenched in royal flummery, threats of immunity and smoke and mirrors. One defence witness, MACC officer Fikri Ab Rahim was particularly revealing under cross examination. He had travelled to Saudi as part of a team that included the present acting MACC boss Azam Baki (following the resignation of Latheefa Koya) to establish whether it was true that billions had been donated to Najib by Saudi royals as claimed by letters sent to AmBank.
His evidence showed the investigators were treated to a grand performance designed to confuse and close down the Malaysian investigation rather than provide hard facts. On arrival the entire team was first detoured to perform Umrah, which was necessary they were told before they could be brought before the ‘royal donor’.
They found themselves flown by royal jet to Mecca for that purpose. After which they were helicopter’d to the prince’s alleged palace. The cognoscenti by now would be detecting the hallmarks of a Jho Low operation (full of lavish display and false piety), so it was no surprise learn that numerous associates of Jho Low then started to pop up.
Among these was none other than his key business proxy, Eric Tan, the court learned. For reasons that appear not fully explained, the MACC team had agreed to interview not only the supposed donor in his alleged palace home in Saudi Arabia, but also the Malaysian citizen Eric Tan, who was Low’s employee and the registered beneficial owner of the Singapore bank account of Tanore Finance Corporation, from which the money had ultimately travelled into Najib’s AmBank account in KL.
Why Tan was allowed to make the MACC his guests in a Saudi palace instead of being hauled up to their headquarters was left as a question mark by the cross examiners. But Fikri acknowledged the suspect had been permitted to limit himself to a pre-prepared statement and was further allowed to decline to provide any follow up questions by the MACC. His statement simply conveyed that he personally didn’t know where the RM2.6 billion that entered his account had come from – he had just sent it on to Najib as ordered by Jho Low.
So, what of the Saudi Prince that the MACC officers had come all this way to see?According to letters produced by the bank, which the plainly over-awed MACC officers had come to ‘authenticate’, the money had been donated by one Prince Saud Abdul Aziz Malik Abdul Aziz al-Saud, himself supposed to be acting as a proxy for the King himself.
There have long been rumours that Abdul Aziz is in fact a none too wealthy junior cousin of Prince Turki bin Abdullah, the then shareholder of PetroSaudi, who was indeed a son of the King and up to his neck in the entire saga of thefts from 1MDB. Had Abdul Aziz been given some pocket money to play the role of grand ‘donor’ to pull the wool over the MACC officers’ eyes (or at least give them some excuse to come home with)?
An almost passing reference by officer Fikri at the trial appears to give the game away. He mentioned Prince Turki’s presence as the apparent chief of operations for the grand show at the Saudi end. When he had asked to be able to take a photocopy of the young ‘donor’s’ alleged passport, Fikri explained, it was none other than Prince Turki who was on hand to give the order that the MACC officers were only to be allowed to glance at the hallowed document and not to be given any such chance to verify it.
Any lingering doubts in that court room as to what was really going on in this elaborate charade surely vanished at that moment?
Following their Umrah, the MACC officers were flown to an unidentified palace, the court heard, which they were informed belonged to the youthful Abdul Aziz. They had once reported that it was here that they had interviewed and gained evidence from the young man to confirm that he had sent the money on behalf of his relative the King.
Yet, on cross examination it became clear the MACC had failed to prove the palace belonged to Abdul Aziz or anything much else. They didn’t in fact even get to meet the alleged prince, who Fikri admitted might or might not have been at the palace at the time or even in Saudi Arabia for all it mattered.
The investigators were told to make do with the prince’s lawyer who merely signed a pre-prepared statement to ‘authenticate’ the payments, as Prince Turki himself clearly hovered over the proceedings (Prince Turki is presently jailed in Saudi on separate corruption charges).
The key ‘proof of identity’ to substantiate the statement provided by the lawyer was to be the sighting of a passport, which Prince Turki refused to allow the MACC to photocopy. They were reminded the Prince had total legal immunity, so what matter if it was all bogus and fake?
“When Shafee asks who told Fikri that they would only show their passport without allowing it to be photocopied, Fikri says that it was Prince Turki who said it.” [Malaysiakini court report]
And with that the MACC had been sent home. This was the laughable evidence on which Najib’s previous attorney general Apandi Ali had based his decision, claiming the donation was authentic and the DOJ plain wrong.
Questioned further, Fikri had admitted that of course under normal circumstances the MACC at their own HQ would have conducted thorough checks and a proper grilling. As it was they merely returned to KL where it was announced that the donation had been confirmed, despite the flimsy evidence.
Najib’s less than convincing defence is due to wrap on Monday according to his lawyers. Then the clock will be ticking on the final stages of this ridiculously lengthy trial as the judge heads toward his verdict. Unless, some drastic intervention were to occur the evidence would suggest that the verdict is a foregone conclusion.
Could such an intervention now become a very real possibility following the coup launched by Najib’s political allies who are currently doing their very best to seize power by hook or by crook, despite being nowhere near a majority of MPs?
The ex-premier has expressed his smug anticipation of ‘more congenial’ treatment from the courts following the upheaval. Others may seek a more decorous way out, meaning that any guilty verdict could eventually be reversed by appeals through senior courts under the thumb of the restored regime – standard practice under UMNO.