KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 16): The Edge Media Group chairman Tan Sri Tong Kooi Ong testified in the 1Malaysia Development Bhd-Tanore (1MDB-Tanore) trial on Wednesday (Nov 16) that he told Datuk Seri Najib Razak how money meant for a joint venture with PetroSaudi International was stolen by fugitive financier Low Taek Jho (Jho Low) but was shown the door.
Tong, who appeared as a prosecution witness, said this when questioned by lead prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram about an article written by him and published by The Edge on Nov 26, 2018, which touched on how Tong briefed the then prime minister about Jho Low and what had transpired at 1MDB.
Tong said that in their meeting on March 6, 2015 at Najib's Langgak Duta house, he had shown that a large chunk of the US$1.8 billion of funds that 1MDB invested in the joint venture was siphoned out by Jho Low and PetroSaudi founders Tarek Obaid, Patrick Mahony and Prince Turki.
“I basically explained what was already in our possession — the emails of PetroSaudi that Xavier Justo (a former PetroSaudi executive) had passed to us in Singapore. There were thousands and thousands of emails but [from what we] extracted, [there] was clear evidence that PetroSaudi wasn't a company owned by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was a privately owned company,” he told the High Court.
Tong added that the initial US$1 billion pumped into the joint venture was not done based on real evaluation, including the fact that the oil and gas assets were not owned by PetroSaudi.
"I explained to him (Najib) that the valuation was not real, that the money, US$700 million (from the joint venture), went to Good Star. I basically explained that Good Star belonged to Jho Low. I told him that Jho Low was making decisions at 1MDB. I told him that while Datuk Shahrol Ibrahim Azral Halmi was the then CEO, Jho Low was making decisions,” the witness said.
Sri Ram then asked him: “Did you suggest what should be done with Jho Low?"
“Yes I did," said Tong. "I told him that Jho Low had done some things wrong and that he should be prosecuted.”
Asked what was it that Jho Low did wrong, Tong said: “He stole US$700 million.”
Tong was referring to the diversion of US$700 million to Good Star Ltd — a company linked to Jho Low — instead of the joint venture company set up between 1MDB and PetroSaudi. The US$700 million was 1MDB’s portion of the joint venture which was diverted to Jho Low.
Sri Ram then asked Tong what happened after he had warned Najib about Jho Low.
Tong: After I told him that action should be taken against Jho Low, he stood up, opened the door for me.
Sri Ram: And did you leave?
Tong: Yes, of course.
Tong said The Edge continued to publish more 1MDB-related articles after the meeting, exposing the misdeeds of the state-owned fund.
Sri Ram also asked Tong, who told the court he regards Najib as a friend, if he had any grudge against Najib, and he replied: "No, not then, not now. I have never had a grudge."
Earlier, Tong testified that during the first part of the meeting with Najib, the former prime minister had explained that the problem with 1MDB was that of a bad business model and it was borrowing excessively and had an excess of debts.
Najib, he said, told him that reports about 1MDB’s wrongdoings were wrong.
Tong said that he penned the article in The Edge in 2018 as a response to Najib’s interview with Sinar Harian in which he said that he was not aware of Jho Low’s involvement in 1MDB.
Tong also told the court the meeting with Najib was arranged by an Umno MP Datuk Seri Azeez Abdul Rahim, who felt Tong should brief the former prime minister on what he knew about 1MDB.
While Tong was testifying, Najib was seated in the accused dock in a blue suit. His wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, daughter Nooryana Najwa Najib and son Norashman Najib were also in attendance and were seen speaking to him before the trial started.
Najib, 69, is on trial on four counts of abuse of power and 21 counts of money laundering, involving RM2.28 billion of 1MDB funds.
He was previously found guilty of abuse of power in relation to a RM4 billion loan given by Retirement Fund (Inc) (KWAP) to 1MDB's former subsidiary SRC International Sdn Bhd between August 2011 and March 2012.
He was also convicted of criminal breach of trust and money laundering involving RM42 million of SRC funds between Dec 26, 2014 and Feb 10, 2015.
For this, Najib was sentenced to 12 years' jail and fined RM210 million by the High Court, with the jail sentence and fine being upheld by the Court of Appeal on Dec 8 last year, and further affirmed by the Federal Court on Aug 23.
For the current trial, Tong is subject to cross-examination by Najib's lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah. However, the court was informed that Shafee was unwell and on medical leave for three days, which means that the cross-examination will be carried out at a later date.
The trial before judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah continues on Thursday.