COMMENT | Supposing I meet a long-lost wealthy cousin in London who takes a liking to me. He had fled with his parents from Sri Lanka at the height of the ethnic clashes and made his fortune trading in oil. Out of the blue, he says: “Annai, your parents treated us well and sent money for my education. I want to repay the kindness by sending you some money so that you can bring your family to the UK as we would love to meet them all. Please give me the name of your bank in Malaysia and your account number.”
How would I get the money? Presumably, my cousin would go his bank, say NatWest in London, and instruct the bank to electronically transfer, say £5,000, to my Maybank account in Kuala Lumpur.
Pardon me for this distraction. You may be wondering what has this personal anecdote got to do with today’s column. For the past few days, I have been doing extensive research on 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and the court filings made by the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
Going through this exercise, one cannot ignore the statements made by two of the most famous protagonists of the government - Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan and Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak.
By putting the issue in the proper context and perspective using the simplest of languages, I hope this subject could be understood by these two ministers easier. By relating to possible everyday events, it could help these two gentlemen to come up with plausible answers to one nagging question which could end all the brouhaha, confusion and commotion which has taken centre stage for the past two years.
From day one, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has maintained that the RM2.6 billion in his bank account was a personal donation from a Saudi prince with no strings attached. But this has been contradicted by the DOJ which claims the money was part of an elaborate money-laundering scheme which involved many parties, including an associate of the prime minister, Jho Low.
Like my cousin, if the Saudi prince wanted to make a personal donation to Umno through Najib, all he needed to do was to instruct his bank in the Middle East or elsewhere to transfer the funds to Najib’s account in Kuala Lumpur. But the DOJ records show that the money did not come directly from the Middle East or anywhere near it.
Can someone explain why the donation was transferred in a circuitous and convoluted route from financial institutions in New York, the British Virgin Islands, Singapore and then on to Malaysia?
(By the way, it is not an offence to receive funds from overseas donors for elections. But banks have a duty to report large remittances to the central bank. Singapore bank officials have or are serving jail sentences for their role in this money-transfer exercise.)
The DOJ filings state that US$1.59 billion was remitted to Tanore Finance in Singapore from which US$681 million was transferred to the AmBank account of Malaysian Official 1 (MO1). Incidentally, it was Abdul Rahman who during a BBC interview confirmed that MO1 is indeed Najib himself.
Again, supposing I don’t need all of the £5,000 and don’t want to be obligated to my cousin, and decide to return £4,000, I would re-remit the money to my cousin’s account in NatWest and not any other account.
This is where all the confusion begins or ends - whichever way you want to look at it. Singapore court records show that Tanore Finance was in the name of Jho Low’s alter-ego, Eric Tan, and a named signatory was Jasmine Loo, who until recently was on Bank Negara’s wanted list. The money in Najib’s account allegedly came from Tanore Finance and part of it was returned to the same outfit - not the Saudi prince...