KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani has strongly refuted allegations that he had sought “lobbying fees” from Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration to help 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) launch a civil suit against global investment banking, securities and investment management firm Goldman Sachs in the United States.

Johari, who is heading the task force entrusted with recovering funds embezzled in the case, also denied insinuations that he was part of a supposed plot in a “character assassination” bid against the former prime minister.

“I will not allow sideshows by people with vested interests to thwart the task force’s mission of recommending the best possible solutions for the recovery of 1MDB assets to the government,” Johari told news portal FMT.

“I have no interest in engaging in any political sandiwara (stage show) of accusations and counter-accusations, especially with cowards who do so anonymously on dubious blogs,” said Johari, who is also Titiwangsa member of parliament.

Responding to a document that insinuated he was seeking US$20 million to US$30 million to spearhead action to recover higher compensation from Goldman Sachs for massive losses incurred by 1MDB in three separate bond issues, Johari said: “That document is full of lies.”

“The allegations made against me are a mischievous attempt to scuttle important work the task force is carrying out in pursuit of the recovery of stolen public funds and to ascertain whether those responsible for negotiating the settlement agreement with Goldman Sachs were negligent.

“Obviously, the agreement was not drafted with the government’s best interests in mind, despite the government being the aggrieved party,” he said.

Johari denied seeking lobbying fees, saying: “I have no desire to derive any personal benefit.”

He also denied having any knowledge on the existence of such a document.

“I categorically deny any involvement in its preparation, and neither was I consulted on its contents,” he said.

“I am also unaware of the tabling of any such document, whether at cabinet level or before any committee or panel,” he added.

Johari also stressed that he did not have any role in Muhyiddin’s administration at the time.

He said he met Muhyiddin, then finance minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz and Attorney-General Tan Sri Idrus Harun back in June 30, 2020, at the Prime Minister’s Office to discuss claiming what was due from Goldman Sachs.

According to Johari, he sent his proposal to Muhyiddin three days later on July 3. In the proposal, he set out his justifications on why the government should sue Goldman Sachs.

“Nowhere in my written proposal was there any reference to ‘lobbying fees’ or any other fee that I have been accused of seeking,” he said.

Based on his understanding, Johari said Muhyiddin had forwarded the proposal to Idrus on July 15, 2020.

However, on July 24, the government signed a “Points of Agreement” with Goldman Sachs. This was followed by the execution of an agreement embodying the full terms of settlement on Aug 18, 2020. Johari said he was shocked by how quickly the settlement was reached.

“The principal payment of the bonds was only due in May last year, which means there was ample time for the government to negotiate,” he said.

Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim revealed that he agreed with the task force that the government should receive much more in compensation.

“From the beginning, I thought that the deal was rushed through. This has led to a lot of questions being raised about the previous administration,” Anwar was quoted as saying.

On Feb 27, Johari told the Dewan Rakyat that Malaysia had been shortchanged in the settlement.

He urged the government to review the settlement and investigate the role of those who negotiated the deal on Putrajaya’s behalf.

On March 9, Anwar told Parliament that he concurred with Johari’s criticism that the settlement sum of US$2.5 billion negotiated by Muhyiddin’s government was too low, given the losses were reportedly in the region of US$7 billion.

The next day, Anwar announced Johari’s appointment to lead the fund recovery task force.

Two senior executives of Goldman Sachs had been convicted of money-laundering in the United States relating to the 1MDB case.

In Aug 2018, Tim Leissner pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money in violation of the US’ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He is awaiting sentencing.

In March, Leissner was instructed by a New York district court to forfeit US$43 million and stocks valued at more than US$200 million.

That same month, Roger Ng, former Goldman Sachs’ head of investment banking in Malaysia, was convicted for his role in the plunder of the Malaysian state fund. He was handed a 10-year prison sentence. The court also ordered that US$35.1 million be forfeited from Ng.