Former group managing director of AmBank Cheah Tek Kuang told the High Court here today that he was told by Datuk Seri Najib Razak in 2011 to expect $100 million (RM463.7 million) “donation” from Saudi Arabia, adding that he did not dare ask then prime minister more about the latter’s claim.
Cheah said this as the 39th prosecution witness in Najib’s trial over the misappropriation of RM2.28 billion of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) funds under cross-examination from lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.
Cheah had yesterday related in court how he had gone to Najib’s house to open a new personal account with AmIslamic Bank during which the latter directly told him that $100 million would be deposited into the new account.
According to Cheah, Najib said the money was from Saudi Arabia and purported it was a donation for his “Islamic activity”.
Today, Cheah reiterated that Najib volunteered the information about the $100 million “donation” from the Saudi Arabian government.
Under questioning from Shafee, he agreed that this was important for bankers to know as it concerned the “source of funds” and that the bank would be required to disclose such information to Malaysia’s central bank.
Shafee: So the client, being prime minister, without being asked, told you this is the source of funds?
Cheah: It’s true, it’s true.
Shafee: Did you ask him any question when he told you that?
Cheah: No, no, I dare not ask him any more questions.
Shafee: Did you ask why was the donation, why was the contribution from Saudi Arabia?
Shafee: Because you need to answer to Bank Negara.
Cheah: I just told, donation from Saudi lah, that’s all.
In his testimony yesterday, Cheah related that he had met privately with Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz to tell her about Najib’s new bank account and the latter’s expectation of $100 million from Saudi Arabia.
He told the court this was because Najib is a politically exposed person and national interests were involved.
Cheah agreed with Shafee today that it was a private bank account and that it was just a matter of courtesy for him to inform the BNM governor about it.
“Just to inform her the prime minister opened an account and that he’s a politically exposed person, and also because he is prime minister and finance minister at that time, so proper to inform Bank Negara and Zeti.
“I told her PM to receive $100 million from Saudi royalty and that’s what I told her,” he testified.
“The governor said ya, we can open the account, but we have to follow all the rules lah. Datuk Seri Najib must follow all the rules,” Cheah added.
Yesterday, Cheah also said he had received a February 1, 2011 letter purportedly from alleged Saudi prince Saud Abdulaziz Majid Al-Saud regarding the promise of $100 million as a gift to Najib from a bank official.
Today, he reaffirmed that a copy of this letter was subsequently provided to Zeti. Asked by Shafee if Zeti contacted him after the purported letter was given to her, Cheah replied: “I don’t think so, I don’t think she contacted me after that”.
Meeting Najib at his house for opening of account
Cheah said AmBank’s then relationship manager Joanna Yu informed him in 2011 that “VVIP” client Najib wanted to open an account with the bank, and she felt it was not good protocol-wise for her to meet then prime minister.
Cheah said he was hoping his superior, AmBank chair Tan Sri Azman Hashim, would be the one that went to Najib to handle the bank account opening as he believed the latter had spoken to Najib before and it would be “much easier”.
Cheah said it was the first time he was dealing with Najib, adding that Azman asked him to attend to the matter of helping Najib open the bank account. In his testimony yesterday, Cheah said he made arrangements to meet Najib with the latter’s then principal private secretary Datuk Azlin Alias.
Elaborating on the details today, he said: “I wanted to go see him at the PM’s office but they told me he’s only available at his house. Then I said, I don’t know where the house is”.
Cheah said Azlin sent a driver to pick him up from his house to go to Najib’s, confirming that they were the only two occupants in the car. But Chea affirmed that he saw Low Taek Jho better known as Jho Low at Najib’s house during that visit when asked by Shafee.
“Let me say this, when the car came and fetched me, I think there were two other cars, convoy got two or three other cars. I was in a car with the driver, but the other cars got other people.
“What happened was when I arrived there, I did see Jho Low in the other car. I went into the house, but I went to a separate room. They all went to another place, I don’t know where they go,” he testified.
He confirmed that he met Najib alone to set up the latter’s bank account. He added that he and Low did not speak to each other during that visit.
Jho Low’s habit of being late
Asked about his dealings with the now infamous fugitive, Cheah said: “Jho Low, I know very little of him, very little of him. Because when he started doing business with AmBank the group, I was not involved at all. I have not met him even when he did the first business, it’s only later part, he wanted to have lunch with me, so it was arranged, but he has a habit of turning up very late.”
Cheah said Low’s tardiness sometimes crossed half an hour. He recalled meeting Low two or three times at social events unrelated to business. He also said Low was never a customer of AmBank as far as he could recall.
Asked why Low turned up for those social events, Cheah said: “That’s why, I don’t know what his role was then you see. That’s why when the name was mentioned in the press, my guy says, ‘Who is this character Jho Low, then later lunch with me’.”
He added that Low had turned up half an hour late for one lunch event and stayed for only 10 minutes. Another time, Low was supposed to meet up for tea but only came more than half an hour later. “After two or three times, whenever any appointment, I just don’t turn up,” Cheah said.
Shafee: Because he was late.
Cheah: Ya, I don’t want to entertain such things mah.
When Shafee suggested that Low was in the habit of giving presents to anybody, Cheah replied: “No, no, I don’t need a present”.
Cheah also rejected Shafee’s suggestion that Low had given him a Blackberry phone, saying he had one for work purposes but used a Nokia phone for personal matters. Asked again if Low had gifted him a Blackberry, Cheah said: “I don’t think so”.
Najib, dressed in a grey suit today with a silver-and-blue striped tie, was seen laughing several times during Cheah’s testimony today.
Najib’s wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, who was in the courtroom also giggled at parts of Cheah’s testimony.
Najib’s 1MDB trial before High Court judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah resumes this afternoon.