Najib’s trial: Ex-banker denies being inappropriately close to Jho Low, says late-night texts just for Umno’s benefit

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 8 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s lawyer today hurled personal accusations in court against former AmBank banker Joanna Yu, suggesting that she had an inappropriately close relationship with Low Taek Jho — the individual who regularly ensured money was pumped into Najib’s accounts to prevent his cheques from bouncing.

But Yu disagreed with such accusations, stressing that her meetings at Low’s apartment in the past were purely for work reasons and that there were always other individuals present.

Yu is the 41st prosecution witness testifying against Najib in his trial over more than RM2.28 billion misappropriated from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), with those funds alleged to have entered Najib’s personal accounts at AmBank.

Najib’s lead defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah cited BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) text messages between Low and Yu on August 21, 2014, claiming that their conversation was at around 1am and allegedly resumed at 5.32am the next morning, and with further messages exchanged at around 7am, 9am and 11am.

Shafee described this BBM conversation as taking place “virtually throughout the day from the late midnight conversation that you had at 1am”, and appeared to insinuate that this was inappropriate.

“You were willing to do this, you said you were not paid by Jho, you are not a corrupt person. I wish I had a banker who will stay up the whole night to take my instruction. You were there at 1am, not sleeping, early in the morning, 5am still with Jho Low,” Shafee said.

But Yu pointed out that the BBM text messages that came in at 5am were all from Low and her response was only after 7am, also fending off Shafee’s suggestion that it was “odd” for her to have responded at around 1am by noting that she had replied before she went to bed.

Shafee remarked: “I’m putting it to you, your relationship is so close he could take liberty of you. I will not dare call my banker, no matter how young she is, at that hour.”

Yu explained that Low had texted to say a cheque for RM5 million to Umno had been issued from Najib’s account and to make sure there are sufficient funds to ensure the cheque goes through, noting that she had responded then as it involved the prime minister’s account.

Shafee then said: “I put it to you all these show evidence of your inappropriate close relationship with Jho Low. I’m using the word ‘inappropriate’ in a calculated way. I’m putting it to you.”

But Yu disagreed.

The BBM conversation on August 21, 2014 had begun at 12.41am with Low’s message regarding the notification about the expected RM5 million cheque to Umno from Najib’s account and with Yu replying at around 1.06am, with Low’s next replies coming in at 5.32am and close to 7.30am, and Yu’s replies coming in subsequently. The entire conversation on that day ended at around 11.30am the same day.

Later when asked by deputy public prosecutor Ahmad Akram Gharib to clarify the BBM conversation, Yu explained that Low had informed her at around 12 midnight that there is a cheque of RM5 million to Umno and to arrange enough funds, noting that she probably read the message at 1am and replied that she would ensure sufficient funds for the RM5 million cheque and asked which account it was as there were two accounts.

Akram: Conversation was with regards to money to be paid to Umno. To whose benefit is this, is this to Jho Low’s benefit or whom?

Yu: Umno.

Akram: You can confirm the conversation you had late night is not for the benefit of Jho Low and you but for Umno?

Yu: Yes, to make sure the cheque doesn’t bounce.

Previously, Yu had confirmed that either Najib’s authorised account handler Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil or Low would be alerted whenever Najib’s cheques were at risk of bouncing due to his accounts being overdrawn with insufficient funds, and that Low had arranged for cash to be topped up into Najib accounts to prevent the cheques from bouncing in order to safeguard the then prime minister’s reputation.

A former AmBank manager Joanna Yu arrives at Kuala Lumpur High Court February 3, 2023. Ñ Picture by Hari Anggara

Shafee also attempted to suggest that Yu was being inappropriate as a banker due to her visits to Low’s apartments in the past, claiming that she had gone there sometimes in the late hours of the evening.

Yu however only recalled going to Low’s apartment at Jalan Kia Peng in Kuala Lumpur at times such as early morning or afternoon, explaining that Low does not go to his office when he was in town and anyone who would want to clear anything with Low was required to go to his apartment.

She stressed that she was at Low’s apartment to “sort out work” especially when it she had to get him to agree to certain loan repayments, and that she had also seen other individuals such as former 1MDB CEO Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi, former 1MDB chief financial officer Azmi Tahir, former 1MDB finance director Terence Geh and Kee Kok Thiam.

Shafee then abruptly asked if Yu was married at that time.

Yu confirmed she was married, with Shafee then asking: “Your husband didn’t mind about all this?”

Yu replied: “He knows I went for meetings. It’s meetings, it’s work.”

Deputy public prosecutor Deepa Nair Thevaharan objected by saying this is an inappropriate question to ask, while judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah asked Shafee where his question was leading to.

Shafee said he wanted to show an inappropriate relationship, with the judge then noting that Yu’s presence at the apartment was for work-related matters.

Shafee however insisted by saying: “Yes, Yang Arif, everybody having affairs also say they have a meeting. So I want to find out whether it was working or more relationships with Jho Low, I was putting to her, go late at night.”

As the judge asked Shafee not to take his questions further than that, Yu spoke up by saying her husband was aware: “He knew it’s work and there were other people present, it’s work, I’m never alone with Jho Low in his apartment.”

Shafee then remarked that this was allegedly the first time Yu was saying this, with Yu again confirming she had never been alone with Low and that he was always with someone else.

Previously on December 8, Yu had in this trial already confirmed to Shafee that Low had a habit of calling bankers over to his apartment instead of going to the bank, and that the meetings were mainly about a loan by Majestic Masterpiece Sdn Bhd — — linked to Low — — which was taking over the shares of Loh & Loh Corporation Berhad and Putrajaya Perdana Berhad.

Yu had previously said such meetings at Low’s apartment would be during weekends when the latter was in town and would ask to meet at the apartment, agreeing that this was part of her duties as a relationship manager at AmBank and that there were always other individuals present at the apartment such as Casey Tang, Tan Vern Tact, Jasmine Loo, Jerome Lee and Kee.

Later when asked by Akram to clarify the meetings at Low’s apartment, Yu said she went there a few times regarding work related to Low in relation to Putrajaya Perdana and Loh & Loh and also 1MDB meetings with Shahrol and Geh and that such meetings were subject to whatever timing which were available.

She confirmed the meetings were not for personal reasons and were for work purposes such as those related to 1MDB.

The 1MDB trial resumes this afternoon.

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