In court, 1MDB ex-CEO says afraid to tell MACC ‘the truth’ in 2015 probe as Najib PM then

KUALA LUMPUR — A former CEO of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) today said he had not dared to share the “truth” about the government-owned company with anti-corruption investigators in 2015 as Datuk Seri Najib Razak was the prime minister then.

Mohd Hazem Abd Rahman said this while testifying as the 10th prosecution witness in Najib’s corruption trial over more than RM2 billion of 1MDB funds.

Hazem said June 10, 2015 was the first time he had given his statement to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), with this statement recorded while he was still a 1MDB director and only regarding 1MDB’s real estate matters, particularly a purchase by Tabung Haji of one of the plots of land in the Tun Razak Exchange Development (TRX).

Cross-examined by Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Hazem confirmed that the MACC statement recorded from him was not about the 1MDB scandal itself, before further stating that he did not dare to talk about the 1MDB matter itself to the investigators.

Hazem: Not really.

Shafee: Still didn’t want to say anything despite your soul being troubled.

Hazem: I’m fearful to tell the whole truth then, because the prime minister is still in power.

Shafee: You agree with me that if you had wanted to tell, this was an opportunity but you chose not to tell?

Hazem: Correct.

Hazem said however that he did air his concerns and frustrations about 1MDB affairs to the company’s chairman Tan Sri Lodin Wok Kamaruddin and two company officials, Vincent Koh and Azmi Tahir who were employed during his tenure.

Hazem said the next time that MACC recorded a statement from him was in 2018 after the 14th general elections. All in, he said the MACC recorded statements from him a number of times.

Former 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) chief executive officer Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex February 15, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Former 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) chief executive officer Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex February 15, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Hazem joined 1MDB as chief operating officer (COO) in August 2012 and was its CEO from March 2013 until early January 2015.

Today, Hazem agreed that he was told by Low Taek Jho in a July 2012 meeting that 1MDB was meant to benefit Umno. He added that he was briefed on this by Low before he took up the COO position in 1MDB.

Agreeing that it would be “wrong” and “criminal” for 1MDB as a government-owned company to benefit Umno, Hazem however said that he did not dare to turn down the appointment as 1MDB COO.

Shafee: Before you took the contract, you knew this is wrong. So you went into 1MDB, took up the contract, with your eyes wide open?

Hazem: Yes.

Shafee: You are going to be a participant of a criminal act.

Hazem: Yeah.

Shafee: You were OK with that?

Hazem: You know, at that time, I was fearful of basically snubbing the prime minister, because I heard my CV has been minuted.

Hazem had said previously in his witness statement that he was reluctant to join 1MDB after hearing Low’s July 2012 briefing that the company was to help Umno and was under Najib’s control, as there was too much political decisions he would have to follow if he were to work there.

Hazem had however also said in his witness statement that he had no other choice as Najib had already signed and approved his appointment as COO and executive director in 1MDB, and as he felt he should not reject the job as he was told by 1MDB director Tan Sri Ismee Ismail that Najib had already made the final decision and agreed with his appointment.

Hazem however also confirmed to Shafee today that he had not seen evidence of benefit or money being sent to either Umno or Najib while he was CEO at 1MDB for around two years.

Ex-CEO: Jho Low’s instructions on 1MDB came from PM, but couldn’t check directly with Najib

KUALA LUMPUR— The now-fugitive Low Taek Jho’s instructions to 1Malaysia Development Berhad’s (1MDB) senior management came from then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, the government-owned company’s former CEO told the High Court today.

1MDB ex-CEO Mohd Hazem Abd Rahman said, however, he did not directly confirm with Najib as he did not have direct access to the prime minister.

Hazem was testifying as the 10th prosecution witness in Najib’s corruption trial involving more than RM2 billion of 1MDB funds.

Under cross-examination by Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Hazem said that any meetings he and other 1MDB senior management officials had with Low on 1MDB matters were carried out in Low’s apartment at 8 Kia Peng near Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) instead of at 1MDB’s office.

Shafee: So you are saying although Jho Low is giving advice, in fact primarily all the advice comes from Jho Low, you have somehow been led to believe that Jho Low himself cannot appear and be known to 1MDB?

Hazem: Yes.

Hazem, however, confirmed that the senior management knew that Low was giving advice and running the show at 1MDB, further confirming that he understood that he would have to obey instructions from Low from their very first meeting in July 2012 at a hotel in Putrajaya in the presence of Najib’s then principal private secretary Datuk Azlin Alias.

Hazem had previously described Low as Najib’s trusted right-hand man, proxy and special adviser for 1MDB, with the July 2012 meeting taking place before Hazem joined 1MDB as chief operating officer.

Today, Shafee questioned if Hazem found it common sense for Low to be kept a “secret”, with Hazem then saying that this was the practice and further highlighting Low’s instructions as allegedly originating from Najib as the prime minister.

Shafee: Did it appeal to you at all in your common sense, corporate sense, why Jho Low has to be secret, why has advice has to be secret among certain people, Jho Low can’t even make appearance in 1MDB, meetings are all done secretly in his house. As a COO to CEO, doesn’t it occur to you there is something not right here?

Hazem: In the traditional sense, in corporate governance sense, it doesn’t make sense. But coming from the message that Jho Low is basically all the instructions from the prime minister.

Shafee: Which you did not confirm with the prime minister?

Hazem: I think yeah, there is no confirmation as well as verifying that these instructions are cleared by the prime minister.

Hazem said that while he had not personally asked Najib to confirm instructions from Low — especially instructions that did not seem to make financial sense or common sense — on 1MDB, he pointed out however that there were occasions where Low was present in meetings with the prime minister and that he took it that “Jho Low’s plans are sanctioned by the prime minister himself.”

Hazem had previously said that when he arrived at Najib’s house, Low was already there in a previous discussion with the prime minister, before the prime minister met with him and Low in a subsequent meeting.

Shafee: Now why do you presume that that meeting which you did not attend with Jho Low, where he was sort of meeting with the prime minister, why do you assume that whatever instructions he gave later on are all from the prime minister, even if it doesn’t sound logical? Why do you presume that?

Hazem: These are all messages from Datuk Azlin, even the rest of the special officers in the prime minister’s office said the same thing, including the likes of Amhari and Wan Shihab.

Shafee then suggested clarifying directly with Najib to get direction on 1MDB matters would be the best way in terms of corporate governance, with Hazem agreeing that this would be the best way if he had access to Najib.

Hazem, however, said he did not have such access: “Well, officially, if I can, if I have the access. I think I don’t have the access, I spoke to my chairman.”

Previously, Hazem had spoken of how he had sought to raise his concerns regarding 1MDB matters through 1MDB board of directors’ then chairman Tan Sri Lodin Wok Kamaruddin to Najib’s attention.

Hazem earlier today confirmed to Shafee that he had never personally clarified or verified with Najib on matters that were conveyed or represented by Low, and agreed that he had relied completely on the accuracy of information that came from Low.

Asked to describe Low’s advice on 1MDB matters, Hazem told Shafee: “I think generally speaking his advice is something that has got to do with things that would require high speed, some of them made sense, and some of them may not be making a lot of sense I guess from a financial point of view.”

Hazem said he did argue with Low on such advice that did not seem to make sense by questioning him privately using Blackberry messages, but that Low “rarely” changed his mind when questioned on such matters.