Friday, October 30, 2020

Malaysia: Najib trial hears of money paid to write ‘objective’ news about his govt

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A former political secretary to Najib Razak told the High Court today that more than RM238,000 was paid to a businessman who had acted as an “intermediary” between the former prime minister and two companies.

Testifying in the trial of his former boss over SRC International, Wong Nai Chee said RM238,914 was paid to businessman Lim Soon Peng.

He said Lim later paid the money to two companies – AD Network, and Akademi Kewartawanan dan Informasi Taima.

“AD Network was paid for administering the ‘Ah Jib Gor’ Facebook page and Akademi Kewartawanan dan Informasi Taima was paid for publication of a Chinese weekly publication,” Wong said when responding to a question by deputy public prosecutor Mohd Saifuddin Hashim Musaimi as to the reason for the RM238,914 payment to Lim.

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He said the Chinese publication focused on providing information on the then government’s policies to the Chinese community.

Wong said Lim was engaged by Najib because the businessman had direct links to Chinese community leaders.

Asked by Saifuddin why the payment was not made directly to the companies, Wong said this was to avoid any dispute arising from the public over funds from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) going to the companies.

“We had objective writers for the Chinese publication and we did not want the readers to know that the PM’s Office was sponsoring it,” he said.

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Asked by Najib’s lawyer Shafee Abdullah why they had “objective writers” to write for the publication, Wong said they found that some issues were “painted” in a negative manner before the general election.

“We needed to project the policies in an objective manner,” he said.

Wong said that regarding the “Ah Jib Gor” page, social media users provided their feedback to the government on issues, including what they thought of the government and the cost of living.

“It is for the government to better understand the community,” he added.

Another witness, Onn Hafiz Ghazi, testified that a sum of RM240,000 was paid to his company, Vital Spire Sdn Bhd.

He said the money was meant to fund news website Malaysian Digest although his company’s main business focus was consultancy and leadership training.

Asked by Shafee who Malaysian Digest’s target readers were, Hafiz said the now-defunct website catered to the general public.

“We carried news from the government and also opposition. We saw it as a balanced website,” he said, adding it was up to the public to judge them.

Earlier, Sim Sai Hoon, a director of research firm Centre for Strategic Engagement (CENSE), said it was paid RM300,000 for monitoring the Chinese media for PMO.

Sim said her firm was engaged to provide analyses on news reports in six Chinese language newspapers every day to PMO’s media office.

“We were instructed by Tan Sri JJ to provide the monitoring services,” she said, referring to the late minister Jamaluddin Jarjis.

Sim said Jamaluddin sought her firm’s services as the late Rompin MP wanted to understand Chinese sentiments.

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Asked by Shafee for the research topics, she said they included education issues such as UEC recognition, the Chinese community’s middle-income trap as well as housing and health issues.

An Umno leader from Penang and an Upko leader from Sabah also told the court they received RM1 million each from Najib in 2015.

Umno Penang secretary Ahmad Shahar Shuib and Upko Putatan division leader Marcus Mojigoh said the money was meant to fund community and charity events.

Shahar said Umno Penang only received funds from the Umno headquarters and had no other sources of income.

He said he prepared the draft of an application letter on behalf of the late Penang Umno chief Zainal Abidin Osman for RM2 million but only received RM1 million.

Mojigoh said the RM1 million from Najib to Upko was meant for the party’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme carried out through their Projek Sayang.

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