Banker in 1MDB case worked closely with Malaysian PM’s crony
A BANKER on trial in Singapore for his alleged role in Malaysia’s 1MDB fund scandal worked closely with a friend of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, a court heard.
A prosecution witness told a district court that Singaporean Yeo Jiawei, 33, left his job at the local branch of Swiss bank BSI in 2014 to work with Low Taek Jho, a family friend of the Malaysian leader, and they conducted business in a secretive way.
Allegations of misappropriations of billions of dollars from 1MDB through money-laundering have triggered a corruption scandal in Malaysia that has embroiled Mr Najib. The prime minister, 1MDB and Mr Low have strongly denied any wrongdoing.
The witness, ex-BSI managing director Kevin Swampillai, said Mr Yeo travelled on a private jet used by Mr Low and exchanged secretive text messages with him.
“When Yeo worked with Low Taek Jho and consulted with his associates, there was a great degree of secrecy around what they did, how they spoke to each other, and apparently fictitious names were used when referring to certain individuals,” Mr Swampillai told the court.
Mr Low, also known as Jho Low, had helped set up 1MDB and played a key role in its decisions.
Mr Yeo is on trial on charges of obstructing Singapore’s investigation into the 1MDB scandal. Other charges will be tried later.
Apart from Singapore, the scandal is also being investigated by Switzerland – because Swiss banks were used to transfer illicit funds – and the United States, where assets using alleged laundered 1MDB money were purchased.
Mr Swampillai said Mr Yeo once sent him a picture from a private plane showing Mr Low.
He said Mr Yeo and Mr Low also travelled to Las Vegas last year to watch the fight between US boxing champion Floyd Mayweather and the Philippines’ Manny Pacquiao.
Singapore prosecutors said that Mr Yeo, the first person to be tried anywhere in relation to the 1MDB case, “played a central role in many activities connected with the money-laundering case”.
They said the case involved the cross-border transfer of “staggering” amounts of money.
Singapore authorities have seized nearly US$180 million in assets in relation to their probe, half of them linked to Mr Low. They have closed the local branches of BSI and another Swiss bank, Falcon, found to be involved in illicit fund transfers.
In July the US Justice Department filed lawsuits in the United States alleging a massive international conspiracy by Mr Najib’s relatives and associates to steal billions from 1MDB.
Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority FINMA said in October that during its investigation from 2012 to 2015, it found that “assets amounting to approximately $3.8 billion were transferred to accounts at Falcon and associated with the 1MDB Group”.
Meanwhile, BSI’s takeover by fellow private Swiss bank EFG International has been agreed at a “preliminary” price of $1.08 billion, EFG said in a statement.
The takeover had been in the works before news broke of BSI’s alleged link to the Malaysian scandal.
Evidence of BSI’s possible ties to money-laundering led FINMA to insist that the Lugano-based bank be fully integrated within EFG and then dissolved.
As part of the agreement, the banks have set aside assets to protect EFG against any “damages relating to breaches of any representations ... and other matters related to specific legal cases”, including possibly with respect to 1MDB, the statement said. –