KUALA LUMPUR: The former director of the National Audit Department today told the High Court here that she and the former Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang had been forced to accept the decision to expunge parts of the audit report on sovereign wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Prosecution witness Saadatul Nafisah Bashir Ahmad said this occurred at a coordination meeting on Feb 24, 2016, which was chaired by then Chief Secretary to the Government, Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa, at his office, with 1MDB’s then chief executive officer Arul Kanda Kandasamy; Tan Sri Shukry Mohd Salleh, the principal private secretary at the time to then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak; and officer at the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Tan Sri Dzulkifli Ahmad, in attendance.
Saadatul Nafisah, 65, who is now retired, said this during cross-examination by lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah who is representing Najib in the trial of both Najib and Arul Kanda who have been charged with tampering with the 1MDB final audit report.
Muhammad Shafee: Was there anything during the meeting from start to finish, to indicate that the Chief Secretary or anyone else forced you or Tan Sri Ambrin to accept a certain decision?
Saadatul Nafisah: Yes, there was.
Muhammad Shafee: Could you indicate (in the transcript of the audio recording of the meeting on Feb 24, 2016) where such force was made?
Saadatul Nafisah: It’s in section 285.
Going on to read section 285, Muhammad Shafee questioned the witness on the existence of the element of force during the meeting.
Saadatul Nafisah responded that there were statements of fact in the report which “in the end, had to be expunged” because of the pressure exacted during the meeting.
Muhammad Shafee: That is what you are saying.
Saadatul Nafisah: But in the end, the paragraph was expunged.
She went on explain that she viewed Ali’s request that her department consider expunging portions of the report as an order, and it was akin to being forced to do so.
Asked by Muhammad Shafee to show further evidence of the presence of such pressure, Saadatul Nafisah referred the counsel to section 325 in the transcript of the audio recording which had been made in secret by the fourth witness for the prosecution, Nor Salwani Muhammad.
The section comprised an alleged statement from Ali to Ambrin: “This can be done. The AG (Auditor-General) can use his discretion to drop this”.
Muhammad Shafee: How do you view this statement as an act of force?
Saadatul Nafisah: It was force because if we did not expunge it, the issue would crop up once again.
The witness however agreed with Muhammad Shafee’s assertion that she and Ambrin had not opposed the suggestion made by Ali concerning the expunction.
Saadatul Nafisah also told the court that her department took many months to secure information for the audit process from Arul Kanda before the report was submitted to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
“Arul Kanda said there was no problem but the information never reached us,” she said, explaining that he had kept her department waiting for months, and in the end, department officials had to resort to getting information from third parties including Bank Negara Malaysia and the Finance Ministry.
Saadatul Nafisah added that she had contacted 1MDB’s board of directors to obtain information required for the audit “but we only managed to get 60 per cent of the information from 1MDB to complete the report, and that took up a long time”.
Najib, 67, is charged with using his position to order amendments to the 1MDB final audit report before it was tabled before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), to prevent any action being taken against him, while Arul Kanda, 44, is charged with abetting Najib.
Both men have been charged under provisions of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act 2009, which carry a jail term of up to 20 years and a fine, upon conviction.
Judge Mohamed Zaini allowed Muhammad Shafee’s application for the PAC to supply a copy of the notes of proceedings taken during Ambrin’s testimony before the committee on Dec 4, 2018, as the notes would be helpful to the defence.
In announcing that the court would fix a separate date for case management and thereafter fix further trial dates, Mohamed Zaini reminded witnesses not to discuss the case.