November 25, 2018 / 2:48 PM / 23 days ago

UPDATE 1-Malaysia says former PM Najib's office ordered changes to 1MDB audit report

(Updates with lawyer and anti-corruption commission's statements)

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25 (Reuters) - The office of former Malaysian premier Najib Razak ordered changes to a 2016 audit report of scandal-plagued state fund 1MDB, including removing mention of financier Low Taek Jho's presence at a board meeting, authorities said.

Financier Low has been described as a central player in the alleged corruption and money laundering at 1MDB, according to Malaysian and U.S. authorities investigating the fund. He had no official role in 1MDB, but advised on investments and negotiated deals for the fund, the authorities have said.

Najib, ousted in a May 9 election by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, is facing multiple charges of graft, abuse of power and criminal breach of trust related to 1MDB. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and has consistently denied wrongdoing.

In a statement dated Saturday, Malaysia's auditor-general Madinah Mohamad said "several" findings from the audit report submitted in February 2016 to Najib had been "dropped and amended".

"The former prime minister ordered the deletion of the paragraph containing two versions of the 1MDB financial statement for the year ended 2014 and directed an investigation to be carried out by the enforcement authorities," she said.

The audit report before the amendments has been submitted to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the police for further investigation, Madinah said.

Law firm Shafee & Co, which is representing Najib, said in a statement on Sunday that it was "standard procedure in any audit process that the auditors and the audited would ordinarily meet to discuss the draft report for clarification and to correct any inaccuracies, if any, before the report is made final".

Shafee & Co said Low's presence at a 1MDB board meeting had been disclosed in parliament in December 2015 when the finance ministry stated that Low was there to represent Prince Turki Bin Abdullah as the owner of PetroSaudi Inc.

Madinah had said in Saturday's statement that Najib's private secretary had "directed the former auditor general to drop the paragraph on the presence of Low Taek Jho in one of the 1MDB Board meetings on the ground that it is sensitive and to avoid the fact being twisted around by the opposition".

MACC said in a separate statement that it had launched an investigation into the claims of amendments. It said it had gone over the original audit report to compare with the final draft report that was released by the state audit department, and will soon call in witnesses.

In an interview with Reuters in June, Najib said he should not be blamed for the scandal at 1MDB and that he knew nothing about money from the state fund appearing in his personal account.

Low, who is at large, has previously maintained his innocence.

Malaysia, under the premiership of Najib, had classified the audit report in 2016 under the Officials Secrets Act when the fund's financial troubles were being investigated. The Mahathir government in May declassified the report that showed senior officials at 1MDB withheld information from its board.

Reporting by Liz Lee; Editing by A. Ananthalakshmi and Richard Pullin and Catherine Evans

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