KUALA LUMPUR (Aug 14): Former Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz told the High Court that her husband Datuk Tawfiq Ayman, who ran an asset management company in Singapore, had himself alerted Singaporean authorities via a letter about the US$15.4 million (RM71 million) of funds linked to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) held by the firm.
Zeti, who is testifying as the prosecution's 46th witness in Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak’s 1MDB-Tanore trial, was cross-examined by Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah about the money allegedly received from 1MDB.
Shafee asked her if she was aware about the “discomfort of Singaporean authorities” and their findings, namely that Tawfiq and her two sons had received this money in Singapore.
Zeti replied that she knew about the asset management company and that it received money from various investors, but she was not aware of anything beyond that.
Shafee then asked her about the inquiry from enforcement agencies and her knowledge of these funds.
Shafee: Are you saying you never knew this until our enforcement agencies confronted you with it?
Zeti: I was never confronted.
Shafee: Until now you did not know there was an inquiry?
Zeti: I never knew there was an inquiry; at no time was there any action taken against any member of my family in their (Singapore’s) jurisdiction. They are recognised as having the highest standards in financial security and at no time was there any action taken against any member of my family [by Singapore] for any wrongdoing.
Shafee: By action, you mean prosecution or [issued a] compound?
Zeti: I don't know what other actions there are but no, not that I am aware of.
Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief Tan Sri Azam Baki had previously said that the criminal investigations were handled by the police, while his agency focused on the repatriation of funds.
Deputy public prosecutor (DPP) Kamal Baharin Omar then objected to Shafee’s line of questioning, just as the lawyer was about to ask a question about a press release by Azam in March 2022 regarding the investigation into her family.
“I believe that this is a collateral attack against the witness, I believe these questions do not relate to the charges,” he said.
Shafee then countered that his line of questioning has to do with the credibility of Zeti as a witness.
Judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah then interjected and warned Shafee about his questions.
“I can appreciate that this is relevant as far as the credibility of the witness. But it needs to have boundaries and limits. It cannot transgress on the collateral attack on the witness. I can allow it to a certain point but no more,” he said.
Zeti then asked Sequerah if she could answer Shafee’s question, saying there were documents — particularly a letter — which the defence is not aware of.
She said her husband had written a letter to alert the Singapore authorities that the monies concerned could be of dubious nature and ought to be returned to the investors or the country of origin.
“Based on open source information, it became apparent that the investments could be dubious. Therefore he reported in writing to the financial institution and requested them to return it to the investor. And failing to do so, they should forward it to the jurisdiction (Singapore). These monies came back here because he wrote to the relevant authorities,” she said.
However, when Shafee asked her to produce the said letter, Zeti said she was unable to because the letter was under police investigation.
Shafee then asked: "But you volunteered this information to the court?"
At this point, Sequerah stepped in again and told Shafee that Zeti had already answered that she was not at liberty to speak about this any further.
Shafee then told the judge that what she had testified is hearsay because the letter cannot be produced.
“What she said is without looking at the letter? You were told this by your husband? That’s hearsay unless he is called to testify,” Shafee retorted.
Shafee then referred her to statutory declarations (SD) her husband had signed regarding the money.
Before proceeding to ask her about the SD, the lawyer aimed a slight dig at her. “I am going to question you about the SDs. Unlike you, I’m prepared with documents.”
Zeti denied knowledge about these transactions and reaffirmed that neither she nor her family have ever taken any 1MDB-linked funds.
When asked by Shafee repeatedly about the accounts and money, Zeti denied any knowledge of them.
“I have no knowledge about these accounts nor about the money in the accounts and how they were placed by investors. I have absolutely no knowledge about it,” she said.
Zeti was BNM governor from 2000 to 2016, and she will continue being reexamined by Shafee when the trial continues Monday (Aug 14) afternoon.
* This story has been amended to remove a company that was mistakenly named as belonging to Datuk Tawfiq Ayman.
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