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Malaysia 1MDB scandal

Bali police seize luxury superyacht linked to 1MDB scandal and wanted businessman Jho Low

The 92-metre vessel is part of US$1.7 billion worth of high-value assets allegedly bought with stolen funds

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 February, 2018, 5:04pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 February, 2018, 11:34pm

Indonesia on Wednesday seized a luxury yacht on the island of Bali sought by the US as part of a multibillion-dollar corruption investigation linked to Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and wanted businessman Jho Low.

“We have been inspecting the crew since yesterday and now we are taking action since we have received approval from the court to seize the boat,” Agung Setya, director of economic and special crimes at the Indonesia’s criminal investigation bureau, told Metro TV.

Indonesian television footage showed officials talking to the crew on board the moored yacht, named “Equanimity”, at Benoa Bay.

There were 34 crew on board, Setya said, adding that Indonesian authorities had worked with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation on the money-laundering case, although he could not say how the investigation would proceed.

“We will see how this develops … Whether we can do a joint investigation later or whether we can hand it over later, we are in the process of collecting and investigating.”

1MDB scandal: Malaysia asks Interpol to find Jho Low, financier linked to missing US$4.5 billion

A total of US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, according to civil lawsuits filed by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in the past two years.

1MDB is at the centre of money-laundering investigations in at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak set up 1MDB in 2009 and served as chairman of its advisory board until last year. He and the fund have denied any wrongdoing.

In August 2017, the DOJ asked for a stay on its civil lawsuits seeking to seize more than US$1.7 billion in assets allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB funds because it was conducting a related criminal investigation.

Among the assets sought were a US$250 million luxury yacht bought by Malaysian financier Jho Low, chief executive of Hong Kong investment firm Jynwel Capital, and who is named as a key figure in the US lawsuits.

The DOJ alleges the yacht was bought by Low, an associate of Najib who had no formal role at 1MBD but considerable influence over the organisation, for his personal use. It was among the more than US$400 million that the department accuses Low of stealing himself.

Low’s whereabouts are unknown and his Hong Kong company has not responded to requests for comment. Malaysia has requested Interpol to locate the fugitive businessman.

In an emailed statement through his representative in June last year, Low said the DOJ’s action were an example “of global overreach in pursuit of a deeply flawed case”.

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The 92-metre Equanimity – the 58th largest yacht in the world, according to Boat International magazine – was spotted in Hong Kong waters in August 2016. The South China Morning Post reported it had undergone repairs at the Yiu Lian dockyard on Tsing Yi.

At the time, both the dockyard manager and a Hong Kong-based broker for superyachts declined to comment on the vessel’s presence.

The luxury vessel can accommodate 26 guests in a master suite, three VIP rooms, three doubles and two twin staterooms. It has an interior clad in marble and gold leaf, a 20-metre swimming pool, a cinema, a lift and a helipad, says the luxury charters website yachtcharterfleet.com.

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Other assets allegedly bought by Low with stolen 1MDB funds include a private jet, a hotel and real estate in New York, and a US$107 million interest in EMI Music Publishing.

Some assets have been returned. Australian model and actress Miranda Kerr handed over millions of dollars worth of jewellery that US authorities say were given to her by Low, including a jewellery set gifted to her during an excursion aboard Equanimity in 2014.

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio also returned to authorities an Oscar once owned by actor Marlon Brando and other items that the United States says were funded by 1MDB money.

Additional reporting by Associated Press