KUALA LUMPUR (Aug 13): Former auditor-general Tan Sri Ambrin Buang testified today that the directives to amend parts of the National Audit Department (NAD) audit report of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) for the year 2014, came from then chief secretary of the government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa.
During cross-examination today, defence counsel Datuk N Sivananthan, who is representing 1MDB's former president Arul Kanda Kandasamy, asserted that although there were suggestions and requests to drop certain parts of the audit report, the ultimate decision on removing and/or tampering with the report was still the onus of Ambrin.
However, Ambrin defended that since the order came from the government, he felt the pressure to comply with the requests.
"Actually, the requests for the amendments were given by the KSN (Ketua Setiausaha Negara, chief secretary), not by 1MDB. 1MDB provided the justifications as to why it should be amended. But the request is from the government, so I have got to respect that request," Ambrin explained.
Sivananthan: These suggestions (to amend certain parts of the audit report) by Tan Sri Ali Hamsa were suggestions to you, you were not bound to follow those suggestions, correct?
Ambrin: I understand.
Sivananthan: You decided on your own accord whether you wanted to accept it or not.
Ambrin: Yes, but that part when they say that we should keep our own opinion to ourselves and write a book, that one I cannot accept.
Sivananthan: But I think the context was that it was said in jest.
Ambrin: That's not correct. Subsequent to the Feb 24 meeting, when (then 1MDB CEO) Arul Kanda sat down with (then NAD director of audit) Saadatul Nafisah, he asked to remove all of my opinions. So it was not in jest. He wanted my opinion to be removed.
Sivananthan: The auditee can ask whatever they want, you are not bound by the view or the requests of the auditee.
Ambrin: It's a bit difficult, because it's almost like an instruction from the chief secretary to remove my opinion in my own report. The fact is the KSN wanted to ensure that our opinions are taken out, after all those meetings.
Sivananthan: So that is what KSN wanted to do, but he is not in the dock, unfortunately. He is the witness of the prosecution.
Ambrin was referring to the fateful Feb 24, 2016 meeting, where decisions were made to remove or change certain parts of the audit report. The meeting was called at Ali Hamsa's office after former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had allegedly told Ali and Ambrin two days prior that he was not satisfied with the audit report.
Prior to this, Ambrin had testified that the Feb 24 meeting was "abnormal" as NAD had been asked to remove their opinions and comments in the 1MDB audit report which was requested for the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee.
Besides Ali and Ambrin, attendees in the meeting included Najib's then-chief private secretary Tan Sri Shukry Mohd Salleh, former Finance Ministry deputy secretary-general Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Isa Hussain, former director of audit from the NAD Saadatul Nafisah Bashir Ahmad, Attorney-General’s Chambers representative Tan Sri Dzulkifli Ahmad and former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda.
Earlier, Ambrin, when cross-examined by Sivananthan, said he did not know that Arul Kanda had warned two 1MDB officers, namely Terence Geh, who was 1MDB's director of finance, and former chief financial officer Azmi Tahir, who was 1MDB's go-to guy, to provide NAD information for the documents.
Sivananthan showed an email correspondence between Arul Kanda and the duo, warning them to give all the necessary documents sought by NAD from 1MDB, and Ambrin, the sixth prosecution witness in the trial, said he was not aware of the email correspondence.
Sivananthan: Are you aware that Arul Kanda was unhappy with the information flow from his subordinates?
Sivananthan: From Arul Kanda's email, it seems he was not happy with his subordinates for not providing information to NAD?
Sivananthan: The problem [of] the animosity between NAD and 1MDB, it is about 1MDB not being able to provide information?
Ambrin: Yes, the problem started in 2009 and it carried on until 2015 itself.
The witness agreed with the lawyer's suggestion that 1MDB cannot provide all the documents requested for the audit report as some of them had been seized by the authorities namely the police in the probe.
The former auditor-general also agreed that Arul Kanda was roped in in 2015 as the new CEO and president of the state wealth fund and hence he required assistance from his subordinates to get the necessary documents.
Geh is one of the 1MDB personnel who had left the country before the 14th General Election on May 9, 2018 and has yet to be caught.
In the 1MDB audit tampering trial, Najib is charged with abusing his position to order amendments to the 1MDB final audit report to avoid any action being taken against him while Arul Kanda is charged with abetting the former premier in making the amendments to the report.
Both of them are charged under Section 23(1) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009, which provides a jail term of up to 20 years and a fine of no less than five times the amount of gratification or RM10,000, whichever is higher, upon conviction.
The hearing before Justice Mohamed Zaini Mazlan continues on Aug 24 with re-examination by the prosecution.
For more stories on the 1MDB audit report tampering trial, click here.