18 Feb 2016The Malaysian Prime Minister has demonstrated that he has no problem with altering his narrative once the previous line has been shown to be unsustainable or untrue. At which point his cohorts gather round to chant the “new reality”.
And it is becoming clear that the moment is fast approaching for just such a change of gear over 1MDB.
After all, for the past year the Prime Minister and his spokesman at the company, Arul Kanda, have maintained that there has been no problem whatsoever with the fund. Categorically, no money was siphoned out to third parties like ‘Special Advisor’ Jho Low.
Senior figures have been sacked and lesser people have been arrested and worse for suggesting otherwise in Malaysia.
However, the international community has now started looking at this matter, given the humungous sums involved. Swiss, Singaporean and US authorities, in particular, already have all the evidence they need to show that money was taken out of 1MDB – the figure mentioned by the Swiss AG is at least US$4 billion.
There are responsible parties abroad (like banks) which are therefore being investigated for their facilitation of this theft across these jurisdictions and beyond. And, since Najib is not able to put this wider genie back in the bottle, by shutting down, sacking or arresting these foreign investigators, he will need a different tactic.
Speculation in KL is that he will soon turn, therefore, to an increasingly well-worn device – and find another scapegoat to take all the blame off the man at the top. The obvious sitting duck in this respect is the former 1MDB CEO, Shahrol Halmi, who of all the original inner circle remains the only one still in town (the rest fled months ago).
Is Shahrol the fall guy?Halmi was allowed to be interviewed by the Parliamentary Accounts Committee during its final session last week, before the new Chairman installed by Najib announced the sudden early closure of its investigations into 1MDB.
He is believed to have emerged sanguine over his performance, whereas others more suspicious of Najib have presumed that he merely confirmed on the record that his finger-prints – or more to the point his signatures – are all over over 1MDB’s dubious dealings from start to finish. Ooops.
Sharhol Halmi was the original CEO of the ill-fated fund, taking up his position in May 2009 and steering its management right up until March 22nd 2013. This is an interesting date, because March 21st was the day that the first tranche of US$620 million was paid into Najib’s AmBank account from Aabar owned Falcon Bank in Singapore.
The remainder of the RM2.6 billion came in a couple of days later.
It means that ALL the questionable deals under investigation relating to 1MDB, from the initial PetroSaudi heist, through to the Cayman Island sham and on through the so-called ‘power purchase’ and ‘strategic partnership’ deals with the rogue Abu Dhabi fund Aabar, were signed off by Shahrol Halmi.
Yet, whilst others, like SRC boss and 1MDB Chief Investment Officer Nik Kamil, have high-tailed it out of KL, Shahrol has remained, apparently sensing that he is in a safe position in his new post right inside the PM’s office heading up the so-called ‘performance unit’ PERMANDU.
To others, whispering in KL, he is more a fly in the spider’s parlour, waiting to be gobbled up.
Changing stories and the developing blame game over 1MDBIt’s not hard to see why Halmi looks increasingly endangered, despite his appearance of being powerfully protected.
When the scandal first erupted, Najib had responded wide-eyed to suggestions that money had been siphoned out of the struggling 1MDB by his close friend Jho Low. Confidently, he announced that Low had had no role at all in 1MDB and that he himself had only a distant over-view, merely as Chairman of the Board of Advisors.
So confident was the Prime Minister that he allowed the various regulatory bodies involved to set up investigations – four task forces were appointed in all and it appears that Najib reckoned he could control their activities sufficiently to close down the scandal soon.
However, it did not turn out that way, as investigators started to bring out more and more damning information. It emerged, for example, that far from being a distant overseer of 1MDB, Najib was in fact the sole shareholder and sole signatory of the fund – and therefore the final decision-maker on its every activity.
An email (below) from 1MDB’s own lawyers at Wong Partners to PetroSaudi’s legal counsel at the signing of the joint venture, illustrates Najib’s controlling position clearly (see Section 4 relating to the banking Form A, stating the beneficial owners of the JV for the relevant Bank Accounts).
Shahrol Halmi may have been the authorised signatory on the account, but he answered to Najib:
First, Najib denied the story and blocked Sarawak Report and threatened the Wall Street Journal. Then he admitted the money, but said the it was a gift from an anonymous “donor”. More recently, he has refined this story to say that the “donor” was a son of the Saudi King (off-the record identified as Prince Turki, the owner of 1MDB’s joint venture partner PetroSaudi).
The PM, later still, surprisingly announced that most of the money was afterwards “sent back” to this “donor”, presumably because he was unable to deny SR’s story that Najib emptied this account back to Singapore after the election.
Finally, another new development in the evolving narrative is that the PM has admitted that the RM42 million was placed in his account, but claims he does not know who put it there. Nor did he realise that it had come from SRC. Nevertheless, investigation papers, waved before cameras by the Attorney General himself, confirmed that this mystery money was used to pay Najib’s own credit card bills.
Nik Kamil, is in the firing line over those SRC payments. After all, he had been given power of attorney over the relevant accounts belonging to the PM and was the person who transferred the money from SRC where he was simultaneously the CEO (working under Najib’s Ministry of Finance).
But, Nik hoofed it abroad some time back.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal came out again this week to back statements by this blog and others that the RM2.6 billion, which separately arrived in Najib’s account from the Aabar owned Falcon Bank, all points to having originated from 1MDB, not a Saudi multi-billionaire royal.
It does not help Najib’s present narrative either that Prince Turki is known not to have been a man of great personal wealth and that he himself was back-handed US$77 million for allowing PetroSaudi to be “used as a front” for Jho Low’s original heist of US$1.83 billion…. which means that a new explanation may very well soon have to be found.
Someone will have to be blamed for losing this 1MDB money and then gulling the PM into thinking he had been given a Saudi donation……
Once that person has been identified and shown to have signed all the papers, how simple it would surely be to explain how, from his lofty position, so beset with other responsibilities, the Prime Minister/ Minister of Finance simply had no idea about what his various proxies were up to?
Who else could that person be, KL insiders are whispering, than Shahrol Halmi?
Pawn in the gameEmails and documents relating to the PetroSaudi deal in fact show that Halmi was little more than a front man for the deal.
However, this may not prevent him from shouldering all of the blame, because it was he who had the job of pushing through the resolutions of the Board and signing off the money transfers.
According to emails obtained by Sarawak Report, the PetroSaudi Joint Venture plan was hatched between Jho Low and PSI Directors Patrick Mahony and Tarek Obaid after a meeting on 8th September 2009.
But, Shahrol was not even introduced by email to his joint venture partners until 18th of that month. By 30th, after a brief meeting in London, the deal was signed without any proper valuation of PetroSaudi having ever been conducted or brought before the Board of 1MDB. It is plain the orchestrator was Jho Low (see below) although he advised Shahrol in future to leave him out of the official loop on 1MDB related matters “for proper governance purposes”.
PetroSaudi’s emails show that he nevertheless continued to be back-channelled into all relevant exchanges by the PSI directors Tarek and Patrick.
Yet, it is clear that while Shahrol seemed content to take on the front man role on these controversial matters, it was the others who continued to manage the decisions behind the scenes. Take this continuation of the email exchange between Jho Low and the PSI directors, for example, where Low suggested keeping Halmi out of the loop until the “Prime Minister has cleared the air” with the Board.
He was carrying out an agreement decided upon by his boss the Minister of Finance, purportedly with the King of Saudi Arabia… but in fact with his son, Prince Turki.
Note for example below the discussion between Shahrol and the PSI directors about the press release to announce the supposed ‘country to country’ joint venture deal. Shahrol announced what the PM “insisted on” to give the impression this was a Saudi royal venture and then accommodated the nervous qualifications from Patrick Mahony.
The press release was for local demand and the conspirators hoped the foreign media wouldn’t pick it up, because PSI did not want anyone knowing just what it was claiming or how much money it had supposedly been paid!
Indeed, the whole joint venture was managed between Jho Low and his team (including deputy Seet Li Lin) and the PetroSaudi team and their lawyers in London – Shahrol was flown in to sign, after being “softened” by Jho:
Ok. Thanks. Yes – W&C—–Original Message—–From: Seet Li LinDate: Mon, 21 Sep 2009 15:54:21To: Patrick MahonySubject: Re: Meeting in LDNHi, give us a couple more hours for JVA.Meeting in LDN on Wed will be at White and Case?——Original Message——From: Patrick MahonyTo: Li Lin Seet (gmail)Subject: RE: Meeting in LDNSent: Sep 21, 2009 14:34Thanks. ETA for first draft of agreement is still in a few hours…?—–Original Message—–From: Seet Li Lin [mailto:email@example.com]Sent: Monday, 21 September, 2009 3:33 PMTo: Patrick MahonySubject: Re: Meeting in LDNUnderstand. Will do just that. Will prep B and M lawyers.——Original Message——From: Patrick MahonyTo: Li Lin Seet (gmail)Subject: RE: Meeting in LDNSent: Sep 21, 2009 13:26Ok. I’ve just been bbm’ing with jho and i think we need their counsel to stay longer in case. I also need to get the 1mdb lawyer and my lawyer in touch asap. I will wait until you send the jva but what i suggest is that when you send me the jva, you introduce me to your lawyers by email and then i will forward the jva to my lawyers and introduce my lawyers to your lawyers. Thanks—–Original Message—–
From: Seet Li Lin [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]Sent: Monday, 21 September, 2009 2:06 PMTo: Patrick MahonySubject: Meeting in LDNHi Patrick,Jho is tied up in meetings and could not do the call.He requests that you bcc himself and me in any correspondence to 1MDB.Also, the meeting on Wednesday is expected from 11am to 5pm. Can you get White and Case to book 2 meeting rooms. 1 for 1MDB and PSI. 1 for Jho and PSI.
Jho has softened the ground so the 1MDB ppl are expected to come and meet, chat to know each other and sign. Their legal counsel will be here as well.
Jho Low, who is also hiding abroad, has his own problems with the international regulators who have frozen his accounts and appear to be hunting his whereabouts. But, unlike Shahrol Halmi, he will not be coming back to KLThanks
For the consumption of Malaysians therefore, it is currently being widely speculated that Halmi is the guy who can be picked up and blamed for all the missing millions and even for any that may be proven to have directly moved into Najib’s accounts – in the same way that Nik Kamil stands responsible as the power of attorney for Najib who moved the money from SRC.
It would be hard for Halmi to demonstrate his innocence in any Malaysian court of law, where, it goes without saying, blaming his boss would be disallowed.
So, onlookers are speculating that he will be the next in a line of fall guys.
With Xavier Justo now singing Najib’s tune from a jail in Bangkok and Sirul Azhar likewise from his cell in Sydney, the template on how to exploit an implicated man behind bars is fully established.
Shahrol Halmi once jailed would be faced with a choice behind bars in KL. Either to remain saying nothing throughout an indeterminate sentence or to start playing ball in return for promises and cash to his family.
Should we anticipate 5 part videos from Halmi behind bars, accepting that he was solely responsible for taking all this money and revealing names of ‘conspirators’ and ‘trouble-makers’ trying to ‘use him to cast aspersions against the Prime Minister’, who, of course had nothing to do with any of the losses from 1MDB?
It is jumping ahead a bit, but it seems a highly plausible outcome in the light of recent history.