KUALA LUMPUR: Nobody may have known what transpired in a meeting on Feb 24, 2016, which has led to a former prime minister and the top gun of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) sitting in the dock today, had it not been for a lowly officer who was chased out of the room.
Nor Salwani Muhammad described how she had secretly placed a digital voice recorder in a pencil box which had been taken into the meeting room by her superior.
That audio recording was played in court yesterday and those present could be heard discussing how certain portions of the 1MDB report, which was going to be tabled to the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC), needed to be doctored.
It was today revealed that Nor Salwani was the one who had actually recorded the whole thing without anyone knowing it.
Nor Salwani, who was the fifth prosecution witness in the 1MDB audit tampering trial involving Datuk Seri Najib Razak and former chief executive of the sovereign wealth fund, Arul Kanda Kandasamy, cooly related what transpired on that fateful day in the then Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa's room.
The 52-year old explained how she had been directed to be present at Ali's office by her boss, then Auditor General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang, before she was unceremoniously asked to leave the meeting.
"I was there by about 8.30am but when the meeting was just about to start, Tan Sri Ali's staff suddenly told all the lower ranking officers to leave the room.
"They were very insistent and everything became very chaotic. I was supposed to take down the minutes of the meeting for the Audit Department but they were asking me to leave the room," she said.
However, Nor Salwani said just before she was shooed out, she managed to slip a voice recorder into her boss, Sa'adatul Nafisah Bashir Ahmad's pencil case which was left partially open on the desk.
She said Sa'adatul Nafisah did not know about it and neither did anyone else in the meeting room.
The court had previously heard that the meeting was convened by Ali after Najib complained that he was not happy with the contents of the 1MDB audit report and wanted it sorted out.
It was also revealed that following the meeting, the 1MDB audit report was re-worked and four important but contentious points were removed before it was tabled at the PAC hearings.
Those present in the meeting included Ali, his private secretary Datuk Norazman Ayob, Ambrin, Sa'adatul Nafisah, representatives from the Treasury Datuk Seri Mohamad Isa Hussain and Asri Hamdin, representative from the Attorney General's office Datuk Dzulkifli Ahmad, representative from the Prime Minister's Office Tan Sri Shukry Mohd Salleh and Arul Kanda.
Nor Salwani, who is now a director at the National Audit Department, said she retrieved the recorder after the meeting and went back to her office where she listened to what had been discussed with her colleagues who were part of the 1MDB special audit team.
"I played back the recording and we were shocked to hear what had been decided at the meeting," she said.
Asked by Deputy Public Prosecutor Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram why she was shocked, Nor Salwani said it was because of the decision to remove portions of the audit report.
Nor Salwani said she later transferred the recording to a hard disc before it was copied to yet another hard disc and thumb drive.
"I returned the voice recorder to the office after transferring the original recording to a hard disc," she said, adding she kept the hard disc and thumb drive in a safe which was only accessible to her and her deputy.
This later became a point of contention when Najib's lead counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah started cross-examining her.
Shafee drove home the point that the audio recording which was in the prosecution's hands had been re-recorded from a third device.
He said the original recording was transferred to a hard disc before it was copied to yet another hard disc and thumb drive.
The senior counsel also cornered Nor Salwani on the ethics of recording someone without the person's knowledge.
He questioned her at length on this issue but Nor Salwani maintained that she was forced to do it as she needed to jot down the minutes of the meeting.
"I was asked to be present at the meeting to record the minutes but then I was chased away from the room.
"I had to leave my voice recorder in the room to know what was discussed," she said, adding the hard disc and thumb drive in her possession was later handed over to the investigating officer in the case.
Shafee: Who asked you to leave the room
Nor Salwani: The secretariat from Tan Sri Ali Hamsa's office
Shafee: Did you inform anyone that you needed to record the minutes of the meeting
Nor Salwani: No ...the situation was very chaotic then...they were just shooing the lesser officers out of the room. I did not have a chance to inform anyone.
Shafee: But you still managed to slip the voice recorder into the pencil case.
Nor Salwani: Yes...it was partially open and left on the desk...I just slipped it in without anyone noticing
Shafee: Isn't it unethical...You could have always informed the chief secretary...it is the chief secretary to the government we are talking about here. You could have said that you were going to record the proceedings.
Nor Salwani: It was very chaotic then..everything was being rushed. I was just a lowly officer and I did not have the opportunity to inform anyone.
Shafee: You could have informed your own superior.
Nor Salwani: No..I was being chased out.
Shafee: Are you a kalut (panicky) kind of person?
Nor Salwani: It was very chaotic then...I was being chased out.
Shafee: It was only ethical for you to have obtained an approval first.
Nor Salwani: My boss, Ambrin and Sa'adatul Nafisah know that all meetings are recorded.
Shafee: But in this case the voice recorder was put in a pencil box..it was hidden.
Nor Salwani: I don't agree.
The trial before Judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan continues.
Najib, 66, is accused of ordering the 1MDB audit report to be tampered before it was presented to the PAC in 2016.
He is charged with using his office or position for gratification, an offence under Section 23 of the MACC Act 2009.
He faces up to 20-years jail and fine if convicted.
Arul Kanda, who is his co-accused, is charged with abetting Najib and faces the same penalties if convicted.