KUALA LUMPUR: The National Audit Department (NAD) had a love-hate relationship with former 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) chief executive Arul Kanda Kandasamy, the High Court heard today.
Much to the amusement of everyone, including the accused himself, Arul Kanda was praised and criticised in the same sentence by a prosecution witness in the 1MDB audit tampering trial.
This happened when former NAD director Saadatul Nafisah Bashir Ahmad was cross examined by lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who is representing Datuk Seri Najib Razak in the case.
The senior counsel was having a field day grilling Saadatul Nafisah on how the NAD went about preparing the final 1MDB audit report before it was presented to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2016, when the topic of Arul Kanda's involvement cropped up.
Shafee asked the seventh prosecution witness whether she knew when Arul Kanda joined 1MDB and she acknowledged that the 43-year old was roped in to work with the sovereign wealth fund on January 5, 2015.
He then maneuvered his questions to suggest that Arul Kanda was therefore quite new in 1MDB when the audit report was being prepared and this was the reason the latter could not provide much of the information requested by auditors.
However, Saadatul Nafisah's reply caught everyone by surprise when she started singing praises of the former Head of Investment Banking at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank before being head hunted to work for the troubled wealth fund.
"No, no...Arul Kanda is a very intelligent man. He learns everything very fast," she said, while immediately adding that Arul Kanda also promised many things but delivered very little.
"We asked for information but they (1MDB) took months to respond. The PAC kept pressuring us (to have the 1MDB audit ready) and I went to see Arul Kanda a few times."
Saadatul Nafisah then contradicted herself when she said Arul Kanda co-operated with the NAD department but the information auditors requested was never supplied to them.
Shafee immediately pounced on her answer and said: "You have just praised and condemned him in one sentence. First you said he is very good then you said he did nothing."
Saadatul Nafisah the clarified by saying: "He co-operated with us..he promised us..he was the 1MDB CEO then...we waited and waited for the information which he promised but it never came."
Shafee then asked her whether she knew that 1MDB was unlike other companies at that time as it was tangled in "conspiracies within conspiracies".
Shafee: Do you know this?
Saadatul Nafisah: Not at that time.
Shafee: You know of Jho Low (fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho).
Saadatul Nafisah: Yes.
Shafee: You know he played a big role in all this?
Saadatul Nafisah: Now I know. But he (Arul Kanda) should have informed us instead of making us wait for months.
Earlier, Shafee also asked the 65-year old if she knew what had caused the acrimonious relationship between the NAD and 1MDB.
Saadatul Nafisah said she was unaware of such a thing and Shafee pointed out that it was caused by Arul Kanda's predecessor, Datuk Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi.
"It was he who obstructed attempts to audit 1MDB before Arul Kanda came in.
"He was such a hindrance that it led to the acrimonious relationship between NAD and 1MDB," he said.
Shafee also managed to get Saadatul Nafisah - who led a special team to audit 1MDB in 2015, to agree that a report which has become subject of the ongoing trial was not the final copy and could be amended.
She agreed that it was only an interim draft copy and the NAD had the liberty of amending it without compromising their position.
Saadatul Nafisah also agreed that former chief secretary to the government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa did not force or directly ask auditors to drop certain things from the final report.
"It was said in a good way...of course he did not directly say such things," she said of a meeting where Ali allegedly directed the 1MDB audit report to be modified with in paragraphs to be dropped from the final copy.
Asked why the final 1MDB audited report eventually ended up being classified under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) before it was tabled to the PAC, Saadatul Nafisah said it was done on the advise of the authorities after the first draft copy was leaked immediately after it was presented to the PAC.
The trial before judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan will continue at a yet to be fixed date.
Najib and his co-accused, Arul Kanda, are on trial for tampering with the 1MDB final audit report. They face up to 20-years jail and fine if convicted.
Earlier, at the onset of today's hearing Shafee applied and succeeded in getting the court to order the PAC to provide its notes of proceedings of former Auditor General Tan Sri Amrin Buang's testimony at the hearing in 2016.
Ambrin had previously testified for the prosecution in the audit tampering trial and he may be recalled for further cross examination later.