“We take a long time, but we are deadly” explained one investigator to whom Sarawak Report passed evidence last year.
The investigator went on to explain that long experience with financial fraudsters has taught official bodies how to move with slow care and precision. The slightest legal slip-ups provide openings for high-paid lawyers to scotch proceedings against their wealthy clients.
“You will be surprised how long it takes. But, in the end the facts are in the figures and they can’t escape them” the expert said.
So it was last week, as Singapore prosecutors methodically shook down in court the BSI bankers who had facilitated Jho Low’s accounts for 1MDB.
Just four charges have been dealt with so far in the Yeo Jiawei case, with the rest left for revisiting next year.
However, just that one fortnight of testimony has presented a lethal step forward in the ultimate goal of targeting and nailing those ultimately responsible over the theft of billions from the Malaysian public.
First the witnesses and defendant accused each other, then they admitted who was “boss” regarding all their activities at BSI Bank Singapore.
This acknowledgement came from the accused’s own defence lawyer:
Former BSI banker Yeo Jiawei, a key figure in an alleged money laundering operation linked to scandal-hit 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), was merely an “intermediary” and “messenger” for instructions that ultimately came from Malaysian tycoon Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, and his close business associates, Yeo’s lawyer Philip Fong argued on Tuesday morning. [Straits Times]
Taking the stand himself on Thursday 10th November, Yeo testified further to that fact:
Yeo took the stand yesterday for the first time in the trial and told the court that Mr Low was “the most important client” of former BSI banker Yak Yew Chee, because he introduced BSI to sovereign wealth funds SRC International and 1MDB, which were set up by Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government.
Yeo testified: “Low is deemed ‘gatekeeper’ and key adviser to the sovereign wealth funds. BSI management treat him like the most important client of the bank. Whenever he comes, Hans Peter Brunner (former BSI Asia chief executive) and Yak have to meet him.
“Low only communicated with Yak at BSI. Low is quite particular about maintaining secrecy.”
Yeo, under examination by his lawyer Philip Fong, mentioned two “very huge” deals Mr Low had brought to BSI – a US$100 million (S$140 million) deal with SRC in 2011 and a US$2 billion deal with 1MDB unit Brazen Sky in 2012. [Straits Times]
On Thursday the Singapore police authorities tightened the noose further still, by confirming in the court that Low, together with his colleague Eric Tan and the former Aabar CEO, Mohamed Al Husseini (locked up in Abu Dhabi) are ‘persons of interest’ to the Singapore investigators.
Oh Yong Yang, an investigation officer at Singapore’s white collar police department, said in court testimony at the trial of a private banker that the financier, Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, is a “key person of interest in our investigation.’’
Singapore authorities have previously said that they are investigating the alleged misappropriation of assets from the fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd, in the largest such probe in the country’s history.
Mr. Oh’s testimony was the first time that law-enforcement officials have officially named Mr. Low, widely considered a mastermind in the financial movements around 1MDB, as a person of interest. His location isn’t known and he continues to move freely” [reported the Wall Street Journal]
Much more is promised if and when the case continues.
However, the evidence just last week had been so damning that one key witness has already cracked.
Yeo’s boss Yak Yew Chee, who had been suspended as the Senior Relationship Manager from BSI since Sarawak Report first broke the news on Good Star March last year, ended Friday with a plea of guilty to the majority of charges, which were also pending in an upcoming case against himself.
Yak, who has fought for months to avoid being made a scapegoat as he saw it, by his superiors at the bank, received in return a modest punishment for the crimes so far admitted – a $24,000 fine and 18 weeks in jail.
However, more charges remain hanging above his head and in return for his ‘light’ sentence Yak started spilling the beans up there in court and corroborated exactly what Yeo had said about “the boss” behind his crimes:
In his mitigation plea, Yak’s lawyer Lee Teck Leng said his client was “truly remorseful”, and had cooperated with the Commercial Affairs Department in its investigations.
Lee added that Yak had committed the crimes at the behest of Low, who “was not just my client’s biggest customer, but was in fact BSI’s biggest customer”.
Due to Low’s connections, other entities also became clients of BSI, Lee said
So, a full admission that Yak had played ball with Jho Low, because not only was Low his own personal biggest customer (the reason for those fantastic bonuses paid him by BSI) but he was also the biggest customer of BSI bank itself.
Those allegations have now been backed by further evidence made public by Singapore’s methodical prosecution team. The detailed charges against Yak, released by the court in response to his plea of guilt today, revealed fuller details of that relationship between himself Jho Low and BSI.
These confirmed what 1MDB, PetroSaudi and Jho Low have all denied, which is that Jho Low owned Good Star Limited, which siphoned $1.03 billion directly out of 1MDB’s ‘joint venture’ with PetroSaudi. The fraudster directors at PetroSaudi have continued to claim they own the company.
Jho Low also controlled the bogus BVI company Blackstone Asia Real Estate Partners Limited, held in the name of his agent Eric Tan, which had its account at Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore.
The prosecutors have demonstrated that they have all the information on that account also, leaving more looming questions waiting to be answered by Singapore’s own premier bank, which is awaiting news of its own fate and potential charges.
Like others in the growing list of banks caught up in Jho Low’s schemes, SCB are likely to fully cooperate, providing yet more damning information against Jho Low and his contacts in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi.
The case unravelled in textbook fashion for the prosecution over the two week hearing. As the smaller fry were squeezed they implicated their bosses and then their bosses implicated those behind them.
Evidence had begun from Yeo’s former superior at BSI Kevin Swampillai, the bank’s ex-Head of Wealth Management Services (later sacked) who had turned witness to denounce Yeo’s attempts to suppress evidence and conspire with his former colleagues to lie to thwart the investigation.
In the process Swampillai admitted a great deal of what the two had been up to. Beginning his evidence on November 1st, he detailed how the two bankers had worked together to skim off millions from the 1MDB Brazen Sky account by setting up intermediary companies and taking secret commissions. The companies used by Yeo and Swampillai were called Bridgerock Investment and GTB Investment respectively.
He went on the following day to explain that they had been put up to the job by Jho Low’s relationship manager, their boss Yak Yew Chee. The three BSI bankers had together worked to refer Brazen Sky to Bridge Partners International Management (BPIM), a Cayman-registered fund managed by Bridge Partners, a Hong Kong-based fund manager, Swampillai explained.
1MDB had allegedly sold its ‘investment’ in PetroSaudi back in 2012 for $2.3 bn, which it then allegedly invested in units in BPIM. Yeo and Swampillai had approached a broker named Samuel Goh Sze-Wei (also turned prosecution witness) who made the connection with Bridge Partners.
Bridge Partners was to pay $2 million a year kickback for the business with Brazen Sky, which Goh Sze-Wei negotiated in return for the business, as he later himself testified to the court:
Testifying on day four of Yeo’s trial on Thursday, Mr Goh, now unemployed, said he received millions in “referral fees” – of which Yeo said Mr Goh could keep just US$150,000. He would have to hand the rest of the money to “connected and important” people – the ones who really “brought the deal together”.
“I accepted the structure as one that was normal in the course of business,” Mr Goh said.
He set up shell company Bridge Global Managers to receive the kickback, before passing it on to Bridgerock Investment and GTB Investment. Little did he know these companies were owned by Yeo and his then-boss, BSI’s former director of wealth management services Mr Kevin Michael Swampillai. [Channel News Asia]
When Goh worked out what was going on Yeo offered to split the million dollar commission he was getting in half with him, he told the court, before the business was wound down completely after 1MDB announced in 2014 it would ‘redeem’ the fund entirely into the BSI Brazen Sky account.
Swampillai also acknowledged that his and Yeo’s same two companies got further commissions acting as intermediaries for funds flowing from the Devonshire fund already cited by the US DOJ as one of three key conduits used by Jho Low and his side-kick Eric Tan to transfer money out of 1MDB.
The prosecution then brought in another witness, a relationship manager from the company Amincorp, which sets up finance structures, Jose Renato Carvalho Pinto, who acknowledged he had worked with the BSI bankers to organise their shell companies. He testified during the trial’s second week, November 8th, that Yeo had also urged him to keep quiet and destroy the evidence.
Pinto also added the sensational extra evidence that Yeo had later left BSI bank to work directly for Jho Low and his by then key collaborator, revealed as none other than the Aabar CEO Mohamed Al Husseiny:
Amicorp relationship manager Jose Renato Carvalho Pinto told the court Yeo’s relationship with Mr Low was so close that he travelled on his private jet and accompanied him on his luxury yacht Equanimity on a business trip to the Caribbean.
Yeo stayed at five-star beach-front resort Sandy Lane, one of the most luxurious hotels in Barbados, Mr Carvalho testified.He also claimed Yeo arranged for Amicorp to pay invoices totalling US$1.36 million (S$1.9 million) for 27 tickets for Mr Low, Al-Husseiny and several other celebrities to the Manny Pacquiao boxing match at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The cheapest seat was US$30,000, while the most expensive was US$75,000, Mr Carvalho said….
Mr Carvalho further testified that Yeo became “more arrogant and abrasive”, dismissively calling some associates, including Mr Samuel Goh Sze Wei, Mr Kelvin Ang and 1MDB chief financial officer Terence Geh, “working level” people.
These were claims that Yeo continued to deny, claiming against the evidence of his former boss Swampillai and his contact Jose Pinto that he had not moved on to work for Jho and that his pictures from his private jet and parties were merely passing opportunities. It didn’t really matter to the case.
Another deadly portion of the evidence of the past few days related to the missing public pension money from SRC. The looting from that fund by Jho and his associates, so long denied by Finance Minister Najib, was once again confirmed.
Detailing his activities yesterday (November 10th) Yeo provided damning evidence to the court about his role in funnelling away money from the contentious 1MDB subsidiary, which borrowed RM4 billion from the public pension fund KWAP in 2011.
Shortly after the money had been borrowed by SRC, he explained, he followed instructions to transfer $100 million into a fund named Enterprise Emerging Market Fund, which was directed by SRC to then ‘invest’ the money in the company Blackstone Asia Real Estate Partners Limited, which was owned by Eric Tan, an agent of Jho Low:
He told the court that SRC asked that EEMF extend a loan of US$100 million to a company called Blackstone whose beneficiary owner is Eric Tan Kim Loong, an associate of Low Taek Jho or Jho Low.
Yeo.. said he had raised his concerns to his bosses at BSI about the structure.
“I asked what if the investment became zero and what would happen?” he said.
SRC then gave an indemnity that shielded BSI from responsibility should all the money be lost.
After that first transaction, many more followed from 1MDB and SRC, Yeo said.
Yeo said his boss Kevin Swampillai had asked him to handle that transaction in December 2011 and that it was to be done on an urgent basis and that the client was very big and important.
He said that SRC and 1MDB were the clients of his colleague Yak Yew Chee and that he was just a support staff to execute what was decided by his bosses.[The Edge]
As Sarawak Report previously reported, Yeo’s boss Yak Yew Chee had organised a similar waiver, signed by SRC’s now fugitive CEO Nik Faisal Arif Kamil, related to another such investment in another Eric Tan company named Affinity Equity Partners via a separate ‘fiduciary’ fund called Pacific Harbour Global Growth Fund (a fiduciary fund invests according to the request of the client).
Over this two week initial trial, therefore, as the bankers traded accusations and revelations whilst shifting blame, more and more light was cast about exposing the movers and shakers who had tried to hide behind them.
And there were few surprises. Jho Low, Eric Tan and Mohamed Al Badawi, all identified already by the DOJ, and behind them the only person who could have licensed this whole-scale plunder from Malaysia and then prevented all investigation, the Finance Minister/Prime Minister in charge of 1MDB.
Singapore police investigators also revealed to the court that the fake Aabar companies, used to funnel money disguised as deposits for guarantees and payments to terminate options to its parent company IPIC, numbered no less than four. Aabar International Investments PJS BVI was already known of to the public, but there were three others Mr Oh confirmed yesterday:
Mr Oh told the court that entities Aabar Investments PJS Ltd (Samoa) and Aabar International Investments PJS Ltd (BVI), along with two others Aabar Investments PJS Ltd ( Seychelles) and Aabar Investments PJS Ltd (BVI) featured in the CAD’s investigations involving Yeo, Tan, Low, Al Husseiny and others.
Thus after two weeks of open court 1MDB, Najib and his fugitive aid Jho Low have seen the case against them confirmed and strengthened. What’s more, Singapore has several more witnesses and charges up its sleeve for the coming year with yards of evidence to unravel before the glare of a global watching media.
Singapore says it is now looking for Jho Low to help it further with its enquiries.
On his last day on the stand Yeo denied he had gone on from BSI to work with Jho Low and called his former colleagues liars. He said he had acted on instructions from his superiors at the bank over his functions for Jho Low. But, in seeking to exculpate himself, he merely strengthened the case against those running 1MDB.
This case was never about the little guys who ended up in court last week. Although they are an example to all other crooked bankers.
It may be the case that in Malaysia trials are orchestrated to obtain convictions against the small fry and hired hands, whilst rescuing the bigger fish and commissioners of those crimes.
However, the international prosecutors dealing with the biggest fraud case ever tackled in Switzerland, Singapore and the USA cannot step back from what they have started in this investigation and keep their credibility. They need to be seen to do a proper job and nail the real perpetrators. They are going about it textbook fashion.
Likewise, although today Malaysia simply rejected the Swiss AG’s repeated requests for cooperation, the Swiss, showing small surprise, announced they will continue investigations together with international colleagues across the globe.
Najib may continue to defy the facts and bully his critics in Malaysia. Furthermore, he has tried to boast that the new US President will get him off the hook; he has visited Singapore to beg and bargain for his accounts to be unfrozen; he has offered Islamic deals with PAS; thrown himself at the door of China and offered deals to Thailand.
However, step by step, fact by fact and brick by brick the professional prosecutors across the world are building a case he cannot answer.