This Just Made The London Court Case A Whole Lot Worse For Abu Dhabi
Gone was the dopey, laid back and distanced PM who barely knew what was going on down at 1MDB, let alone in his own bank accounts, as we listened to the shock telephone recordings released by the MACC today.
As he tackled perhaps one of the trickiest calls of his life, Najib Razak can be heard navigating the details of the situation in the most polished and nuanced manner as he put through a personal call to the de-facto head of state in Abu Dhabi, Crown Prince Mohammed, the day after the US Department of Justice had announced its seizure of a billion dollars and laid bare the theft of the money that funded the movie Wolf of Wall Street.
Nevertheless, the tension and desperation in Najib’s at times trembling voice is also plain to hear, adding to the sense of drama of the surprise press conference held today by Malaysia’s MACC head Latheefa Koya. He was on the line to beg a fellow state leader to get him off the hook over the scandal and close it down. So, was he leaving 1MDB matters to his officials whilst engaged in other weighty concerns of state? My foot!
Besides a general call to help him ‘shut down’ the scandal, there was an additional and highly pressing ‘personal favour’ Najib was begging off the hugely wealthy Crown Prince in that call, which was to organise a bogus retrospective loan from Abu Dhabi for his step-son Riza to enable the would-be Hollywood producer to dodge the Department of Justice’s allegations that he had acquired stolen millions from 1MDB to fund his films.
Poor Riza hadn’t known the money was stolen, Najib explained, he had innocently thought it was coming from IPIC. Indeed, he reminded, Mohammed had mentioned once at dinner he would be happy to help out some day. So, would this senior royal be willing to step into the scandal of the century and get involved in such deception, given the nations were so friendly?
The hesitation, reluctance and embarassment is palpable in the elegant voice of the royal respondent as he tackles this request from a fellow elite politician to outrageously conspire to deceive the forces of law and order of their mutual most powerful ally, to continue to cheat Najib’s own people to the tune of billions and to fork out yet more of Abu Dhabi’s reserves of cash to bail out 1MDB for no obvious good reason.
Except, there was a private good reason, as the crooked Malaysian prime minister so artfully interjected into the conversation, whilst his counter-part was prevaricating over his availability to discuss the matter further over the next few days or indeed weeks, if ever. These developments were bad for both of them my friend. 1MDB was making BOTH countries look bad and the ‘situation’ needed to be closed down as soon as possible before it turned “catastrophic”.
To this the Crown Prince agreed, more than once.
He acknowledged both countries needed 1MDB to go away, it is assumed because no one was smelling of roses. After all, the two top executives of Abu Dhabi’s sovereign fund IPIC/Aabar had already been exposed and jailed for their astonishing dishonesty and profligacy over 1MDB by the time of this call in late July 2016 (by comparison Najib was allowing Jho Low and all his mob to continue to run around free and claiming ‘there had been no wrongdoing’).
What’s more, specifically Khadem Al Qubaisi (KAQ), was known to have acted as the essential side-kick to Mohammed’s own younger brother Sheikh Mansour throughout the period, inevitably entangling, possibly even implicating, the untouchable royal family in what was going on.
Particularly toe-curling for the royal family will have been Najib’s direct referencing of Sheikh Mansour as the person requested to sign off on a bogus cheque – why so entitled and familiar with this particular brother in charge of IPIC/Aabar?
Mansour, in the same way Najib is presently posturing over 1MDB, will of course refer to his elevated position and assert he had no idea what was going on at the shop floor of the humungously loss-making IPIC fund, of which he was the Chairman. But, the fact of the matter is that stolen millions from 1MDB, channelled as backhanders into KAQ’s Luxembourg accounts, had ended up funding the upkeep on Mansour’s super-yacht as well as the burgeoning Hakkasan nightclub (boozing and girlie outfit) empire in Las Vegas.
Having kept its public distance from Hakkasan in the years immediately following the 1MDB scandal, Aabar (an IPIC subsidiary) has now emerged as the actual owner after all and the fund is busily closing the whole business down as fast as possible, it would appear.
By 2016 IPIC/Aabar (of which Mansour continues to be the boss) had also moved to bail out 1MDB to the tune of a billion dollars following the original expose and subsequent financial crisis in the fund the previous year – Aabar CEO Mohammed Al Husseiny who was responsible for that deal with Najib was sacked and jailed shortly after.
However, by then the two funds were entangled by fraudulent behaviour on both sides and the two countries were in tense negotiations to resolve who was going to fork out for the consequences of all this mutual graft?
This is what makes the evidence from this call pivotal to the on-going legal wrangle between the two countries, which has now at Malaysia’s request been returned to the UK High Court – a move resisted by Abu Dhabi which wanted to continue with secret arbitration.
After all, this recording sheds plenty more light on the nature of the decisions taken at the very highest levels on both sides and the reason for them, all of which Abu Dhabi would like to keep under wraps as it continues to act the injured party and demand billions in compensation from Malaysia.
So, what did take place? We can hear that in the call that Crown Prince agreed a ‘solution’ must be found and he indicated he was also in principle willing to try to bail out Riza. In short, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi did not roundly tell the prime minister of Malaysia that since it appeared that a massive crime and theft had taken place against the public fund for which he was responsible the law ought to be allowed to take its course.
Instead, the Abu Dhabi leader implies in the call he would indeed be willing to conspire together with a known actor behind 1MDB to engage in a cover-up, because the conduct up till now looked bad for his government as well as for Najib’s.
Nevertheless, the Crown Prince’s distaste and anxiety over being pulled into Najib’s mess are also clear. A by now wheedling prime minister is pressing for a commitment. He is desperate to jump on a plane to Abu Dhabi to see Mohammed that very weekend – there is no time to be lost he explains as his step-son is feeling the hot breath of the FBI down the back of his neck and needs to produce documents immediately in order to falsely claim the money came from Abu Dhabi after all.
For Najib, of course, this was the most important issue and we can be sure a shrieking and haranguing Rosmah (whose domineering tones can be heard in another of the calls exposed by the MACC) had been on to him every hour God sends to sort it out (this was a post 2am call Malaysia time). However, why should a Middle Eastern dignatory of the highest level (who unlike Najib holds his job for life) wish to get personally sullied with such stuff?
Sheikh Mohammed, who had been happy to visit KL some years before to front up what had seemed to be a big strategic investment project in the Tun Razak Exchange, was plainly in no mind to get caught out personally receiving the tainted PM now at his home in Abu Dhabi.
“Do you think it will become public if I come and see you” asks Najib like a little boy? The answer is yes. There was no one-to-one ‘four eyes’ meeting involving the two of them in prospect, the Crown Prince made clear!
Instead, Najib got the brush-off top leaders often use, which was an invitation to speak to Mohammed’s own key operator about these issues, Khaldoon Al Mubarak. The Crown Prince may privately have had hot words for his favoured advisor over getting him into this original mess with 1MDB, but Khaldoon’s high status and reputation remain intact in Abu Dhabi.
Indeed, the Crown Prince showed himself every bit as adept as Najib at the tricky social situation as he evaded commitments in this call. Riza should meet Khaldoon one to one, no accompanying lawyers with documents to sign please, so matters could be better understood. Likewise, Najib should meet Khaldoon, who could fly to KL to see him.
On the other hand, the Crown Prince did not say that this was a matter best left to due process and the law – he might now wish he had.
Najib Exposed For Being In The Know
On a separate pertinent matter to issues presently being discussed in the KL courts, we now have solid proof from this July 2016 phone call that Najib DID know, that billions had been stolen from 1MDB: also that the money which funded Riza’s Wolf of Wall Street was indeed “laundered” (as he himself worded it to the Crown Prince) from the fund he was sole signatory for.
Yet, as Malaysians know, he continued to claim in public for many months that nothing had gone wrong at the fund or been stolen and he still says in court that he wasn’t aware until after the election that the money had not all come from an Arab Prince. Well, we knew it was nonsense all along, but now Najib is caught in his own words in real time admitting the money-laundering as he tried to cover it up. Prosecutors may be adding to their lists of questions.
What is also confirmed is that far from being laid back and barely aware of what was going on, as he has daily asserted in court, a panicking Najib was hands-on throughout the crisis to the extent he was ready to jump on a plane after that very call to race to Abu Dhabi to make a one-to-one deal with the Crown Prince to close down the scandal in the days following the DOJ press conference in 2016
After all, he was up to his neck in the situation and his own family were facing criminal indictments from the DOJ.
We also know from another call in this clutch of nine conversations provided by the MACC, this time with his screeching wife Rosmah, that the ex-PM was simultaneously up to negotiations on the ‘same matter’ with China – the China side was coming along nicely he reassured his frantic wife….. but hush, as such sensitive maters ought not to be dangerously discussed on an open line!
Observers must now look forward to the facts about what happened next to assess the upshot of Najib’s conspiracy with Abu Dhabi to shut down 1MDB for the good of both governments.
We can deduce that that the Crown Prince and his advisors clearly thought the better of entangling themselves in a lying deception to bail out Riza with a bogus loan, since in the end the young man fled home to KL and his company did a deal to hand back tens of millions in fines to the DOJ. Riza has now been indicted in Malaysia.
On the other hand, the Gulf state did proceed to agree to a punishing settlement with Najib’s government over 1MDB under terms reached through a secret arbitration agreement between the two countries. In return for keeping the whole matter under wraps Abu Dhabi extracted an eye-watering schedule of promised payments from Malaysia totalling some US$8bn, which the new PH government abruptly cancelled the moment they got into power and discovered the nature of the cover-up.
Malaysia’s position now is that the excutives of an Abu Dhabi sovereign fund assisted and benefitted from taking part in a fraud against 1MDB and that when the truth came out the rulers of that state agreed with the Malaysian perpetrators to help cover up the matter in return for a huge payment that relieved them of the financial consequences of those actions and placed further fraudlent expense on the Malaysian taxpayer.
The same actors thereby propped up a criminal regime against the interests of the Malaysian people, who were being robbed of billions. The now public phone call in which the highest decision-maker in Abu Dhabi makes plain he was willing to be involved in the cover-up and secret settlement that took place will doubtless take its place in all the evidence before the British court.
[to be added to with transcripts]