Malaysian PM fingered in $1.4b asset seizure case

  • 21/07/2016
Malaysian PM fingered in $1.4b asset seizure case

US federal prosecutors have filed civil lawsuits seeking to seize assets worth more than US$1 billion (NZ$1.43 billion), allegedly stolen from Malaysian state fund 1MDB, which was overseen by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

None of the US lawsuits name Mr Najib but they contain details that appear to directly implicate the Prime Minister.

They include allegations that US$681 million from a 2013 bond sale by 1MDB was transferred to the account of "Malaysian Official 1", who is described in the lawsuits as "a high-ranking official in the Malaysian government who also held a position of authority with 1MDB.

1MDB and the Malaysian prime minister's office had no immediate comment.

Mr Najib was investigated in Malaysia after revelations that US$681 million was transferred to his personal bank accounts.

Malaysia's attorney general said in January the Prime Minister had not committed any crime, and that the money in his bank account was a political donation from the Saudi royal family.

Mr Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said in April funds wired into Mr Najib's personal bank account were a "genuine" donation originating from Saudi Arabia.

The US lawsuits seek to seize assets "involved in and traceable to an international conspiracy to launder money misappropriated from 1MDB".

The alleged offences were committed over a four-year period and involved multiple individuals, including Malaysian officials and their associates, who conspired to fraudulently divert billions of dollars from 1MDB, the lawsuits said.

1MDB, which Mr Najib founded in 2009 shortly after he came to office, is being investigated for money-laundering in at least six countries, including the United States, Singapore and Switzerland.

It is the largest set of cases ever brought by the Justice Department's Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, which seeks the forfeiture of the proceeds of foreign corruption. The previous largest case in February sought to seize US$850 million.

The US lawsuits seek to seize assets "involved in and traceable to an international conspiracy to launder money misappropriated from 1MDB".

The lawsuits name Mr Najib's stepson Riza Aziz as a "relevant individual.

The lawsuits also named Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, better known as "Jho Low", and Abu Dhabi government officials Khadem Abdulla Al-Qubaisi and Mohammed Ahmed Badawy Al-Husseiny.

Mr Al-Qubaisi and Mr Al-Husseiny are former officials at a sovereign fund in Abu Dhabi that participated in deals with 1MDB.

Mr Jho Low did not respond to requests for comment sent to his Hong Kong-based company, Jynwel Capital. Mr Al Qubaisi and Mr Al-Husseiny could not be reached for comment.

The people named in the complaint have not been charged with crimes - the defendants in the civil lawsuits are the properties the government wants to seize.

Those include luxury properties in New York and California, paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, and a Bombardier jet.

Tens of millions of dollars in funds diverted from 1MDB were used to produce the 2013 Martin Scorsese film "The Wolf of Wall Street," the lawsuits said. The lawsuits aim to seize proceeds from that film, which was produced by Mr Riza's Red Granite Pictures.