KUALA LUMPUR (May 9): Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) chairman Tan Sri Mohd Bakke Salleh told the High Court on Monday (May 9) that he frequently saw fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho aka Jho Low at Datuk Seri Najib Razak's deputy prime minister (DPM) office and also at the politician's office at the Ministry of Defence (Mindef).
Bakke, 67, who was formerly 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) board of directors chairman, said he met Najib on a regular basis at that time as he had helmed the Federal Land Development Authority, which later became Felda Global Ventures Bhd.
“I was managing the two Felda entities and regularly met Najib. I also found Jho Low frequently went to Najib's deputy prime minister office and the Ministry of Defence office,” the 15th prosecution witness in the 1MDB-Tanore trial said.
He was responding to additional questions from ad-hoc senior Deputy Public Prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram.
Najib was in his second stint as defence minister from 1999 to 2008, where he rose to be DPM under Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's cabinet.
Bakke also testified that in early August 2009, he received a phone call from Jho Low, who requested he rejoin 1MDB, which was previously known as the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA).
“According to Jho Low, Najib requested me together with Tan Sri Che Lodin Wok Kamaruddin and Tan Sri Azlan Zainol to rejoin 1MDB because there were investments and businesses to be undertaken by 1MDB which required our expertise.
“According to Jho Low, it was important for the country’s economic development. I agreed to it as it was a request from Najib through Jho Low. Jho Low did inform me that the appointment letter would be issued subsequently,” he said.
Sri Ram then asked Bakke whether his appointment in 1MDB materialise, the witness replied in the affirmative.
Sri Ram: How does this represent Jho Low's relationship with the then PM?
Bakke: It reinforces it.
Jho Low is said to play a pivotal role in the formation of TIA when it was formed in early 2009, with Bakke among the steering committee members then.
The witness was also asked about his resignation from 1MDB in October 2009, where he had asked his secretary to prepare his resignation letter following his dissatisfaction with the 1MDB management in its handling of the joint venture with PetroSaudi International to form 1MDB-PetroSaudi Ltd that led to the questionable transfer of funds.
“Before submitting my resignation letter, I sent a short messaging system message (SMS) to Najib informing him on the several matters which were instructed by the board of directors to the 1MDB management but were not followed.
“I did not receive any response from Najib. It did not cross my mind to report to any relevant authorities on the financial misconduct of the management of 1MDB because I assumed that I had already done so through my SMS sent to Najib.
“I hoped Najib will take necessary actions against the management of 1MDB if he finds any misconduct on their part. Since my concerns did not get Najib’s attention as he did not reply to my SMS, I had a feeling that he was involved and something wrong was happening without my knowledge. This was one of my main reasons I decided to resign as chairman and a member of 1MDB’s BOD,” he added.
Asked further by Sri Ram on this issue, Bakke said this was not the first time he had sent an SMS to the former PM.
Sri Ram: Normally, he would respond?
Sri Ram: On this occasion he did not respond?
Sri Ram: Is it unusual?
Bakke explained that he had asked his secretary to send the resignation letter to Najib, as he did not want the former premier to tell him to reconsider his decision to resign from the position of chairman of 1MDB's board of directors.
The Petronas chairman will be cross-examined by Najib's counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah on another date, as Bakke has a meeting in the afternoon.
The hearing before Justice Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah continues with Najib's former special officer Datuk Wan Ahmad Shihab Ismail Wan Ismail testifying.
The Edge is covering the trial live here.
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