Ex-banker and Jho Low had late-night chat about Najib’s accounts, court told

KUALA LUMPUR: A late-night discussion in relation to the closing of three bank accounts belonging to Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was held between a former AmBank relationship manager and fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho or Jho Low (pic) in 2014, the High Court heard today.

Joanna Yu Ging Ping, 52, who handled the former prime minister’s accounts at the time, communicated with Jho Low through BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) chats at 11.46 pm on Dec 4, 2014.

She was referring to BBM text messages brought up by Najib’s lead counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah at Najib’s trial involving the misappropriation of RM2.3 billion from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) funds.

Muhammad Shafee: According to the BBM chats, Yu texted to Jho Low that “Mr Cheah (then AmBank managing director) is leaving the board at the end of this month and we don’t have access to the account holder (Najib). May I please suggest that we close the accounts?”

Yu then further said, “Now it’s Ashok and Ashok is going to engage with the Bank Negara tomorrow to ‘update’ on the accounts and understand that he is also contemplating updating the Chief Risk Officer (who is head of compliance as BNM may call CRO directly at times). Please talk to Cheah about this as Ashok has a tendency to ‘update’ the board on the matters.”

Jho Low then replied to Yu, “Crazy….”update” the board? it is nuts? … this is confidential.

After reading out the late night BBM chat, Muhammad Shafe asked the witness if she had initiated the idea (closing of bank accounts), to which, the witness replied, “the suggestion to close Najib’s accounts initially came from the then group managing director of the bank, Ashok Ramamurthy, as he felt ‘uncomfortable’ with the said accounts.

“I was asked to close the accounts by Ashok. It was just a conversation that we had in the bank,” said the 41st prosecution witness.

Muhammad Shafee: What was in Ashok’s mind to close the three accounts of the sitting PM (Najib)?

Yu: There were many issues with the accounts, namely that they were overdrawn and that large deposits were made.

Muhammad Shafee: I’m putting it to you that Ashok was a “straight banker” and a “no-nonsense banker”, and that if details of the accounts were revealed, you would be afraid of being “discovered” for working in tandem with Jho Low? Yu answered “no”.

The witness disagreed with Muhammad Shafee’s suggestion that she was complicit in working with Jho Low to cover up the goings-on with the accounts.

The lawyer then moved on to Yu’s purported reasons for her termination, and he stated that one of the reasons for her firing was that she had obtained approval from a third party, namely Jho Low, in relation to Najib’s accounts.

Muhammad Shafee: One of the allegations was that you sought approval from a third party (an unauthorised person), who was in fact a total stranger to Najib’s accounts?

Yu: The third party they mentioned was Jho Low, and I didn’t have a written letter from Jho Low or Najib.

At this juncture, the lawyer sarcastically said that the witness was not operating a coffee shop where she could act on verbal instructions.

Najib, 70, is facing four charges of using his position to get bribes totalling RM2.3 billion from 1MDB funds and 21 charges of money laundering.

The hearing before Judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah continues on Tuesday. – Bernama