Tarek’s Royal Trump Cards

The final day of questioning for the PetroSaudi defendant Tarek Obaid, charged in Switzerland with the theft of nearly two billion dollars from 1MDB, saw his lawyers once again name-dropping royal contacts.

In their ongoing attempt to portray their client as a top level royal emissary of Saudi Arabia who was secretly negotiating international relations for Malaysia, they presented photos of Obaid featured among the guests of honour on royal occasions including with the Saudi Royal family and separately with Prince Charles, now the British king.

According to the Swiss paper Le Temps, Obaid’s line of defence has continued to be that his role in assisting the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, and his proxy Jho Low to steal $1.83 billion from the bogus sovereign wealth fund 1MDB was carried out on the instructions of his own “Big Boss” the former Saudi King Abdullah (whose seventh son Prince Turki was a pal of Tarek and the joint shareholder of PetroSaudi).

The reason for helping Najib loot his own fund, Obaid has explained, was that the Saudi King approved of Najib’s moderate and modernising role in Malaysia.

So why, prosecutors asked, did £150 million of that stolen money get transferred back into Saudi hands i.e. into Obaid’s personal accounts?  Apparently, Obaid struggled to answer the question.

However, as the probing continued the temperature rose as did the element of inconsistency it would appear.

When asked why PetroSaudi’s London lawyers had asked for multiple transfers to be made from the so-called 1MDB PetroSaudi joint venture into the company account of Good Star Limited controlled by Jho Low, Obaid replied  “At the time, we were unaware that Jho Low controlled this account. I was instructed to send the funds there, that’s all.”

Yet on previous occasions Obaid appears to have claimed he was the owner of Good Star through bearer shares, while lamenting he had been unable to control the funds as Jho Low was in charge of the RBS Coutts Zurich account.

Never mind, he ploughed on when challenged how come he didn’t know who owned the account when he himself had received huge payments directly from it?

“But this account also transferred almost 150 million to you in several transactions over a few months, for what reasons?” asked [1MDB lawyer] Guillaume Tattevin.
“It was our money, we could do what we wanted with it,” explained Tarek Obaid, saying he did not remember each individual payment and claimed he was used to such operations in Saudi Arabia.
“So you received 150 million from this account without asking yourself why?”, concluded the lawyer.
Answer: “No, because it was our money. If the Saudi government wanted to do it this way, so be it.” [translated from Le Temps]

The logic of this defence would appear to be that Obaid was instructed by Saudi Arabia to put the money into the Good Star account and that the $150 million paid by Jho Low as a kickback was therefore due to Obaid because it had been sanctioned to be stolen from Malaysia by the former Saudi King.

Apparently, he had got lots of these sorts of kickbacks during his career as a secret emissary of King Abdullah. So many, in fact, that he could no longer remember the details of the various tens of millions that Jho Low dropped into his (previously overdrawn) Swiss accounts during the course of the thefts from the Malaysian fund.

Why, in this case did Obaid sign a document to convince 1MDB board members and the Malaysian public that he was indeed the owner of Good Star through PetroSaudi, his questioners persisted?

Apparently, Obaid had merely signed what his lawyers told him to do.

When asked what benefit the sovereign Malaysian fund had received through these blatant thefts and bogus investments he was none the less adamant that  1MDB had been rewarded with “Substantial sums, through various transactions, after which we no longer owe anything to 1MDB,

Stating that the Malaysians were “very happy” he reminded the court sharply that he was not authorised to talk about these operations by his Saudi masters.

However, the lawyer representing 1MDB, which has been made a civil party to the trial, was not satisfied pointing out that none of the investigators in Malaysia, the US or Switzerland had seen any evidence of such returns or transactions.

 “These operations remained visible, you should ask your client 1MDB for clarification,” replied Tarek Obaid.
But no PetroSaudi employee remembers these transactions, reiterated 1MDB’s Geneva lawyer.
Answer: “Because some transactions were outside of what they were supposed to see.” “Did you carry out these transactions alone?” was a question that was left unanswered as tensions rose in the court. [translation, Le Temps]

At one point in the trial Obaid’s lawyers reportedly questioned if one of the judges was smirking and if so why? They received an angry put down.

However, you could hardly blame anyone for remarking the lighter side of this extraordinary tale involving secret missions of state, implausible donations that became thefts, receipts of tens and hundreds of millions that the defendants simply forgot as commonplace along with most of the details of this multi-billion dollar heist in which they had played a vital role.

As for the whistleblower and former PetroSaudi company director, Xavier Justo, who travelled to Venezuela to open up operations and raise further investment before exposing his colleagues?

Obaid told the court that Justo was merely an office boy. He had brought him on business trips to the United States in order to stop him playing video games in the office.

Today saw the close of questioning of Obaid and his co-defendant Patrick Mahony. The legal aspects of the trial are expected to be completed before the end of the month with a judgement by the summer.

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