Luxury US$250m yacht at centre of 1MDB scandal returned to Malaysia, PM Mahathir says
Indonesian police working with the FBI seized the yacht off Bali in February but faced a legal challenge from a Cayman Islands company registered as its owner
Indonesia has returned to Malaysia a luxury yacht linked to the multi-billion dollar 1MDB financial scandal, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Monday, a move seen as bolstering a corruption probe involving ex-leader Najib Razak.
The Cayman Islands-registered Equanimity, believed to be worth some US$250 million and belonged to a fugitive Malaysian financier with links to Najib, was seized in February off the Indonesian tourist island of Bali.
Indonesian authorities detained the super-yacht following a request by the US Department of Justice, which is investigating alleged massive misappropriation involving the 1MDB state fund.
“We are happy since the Equanimity yacht has been handed over to us by Indonesia,” Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is on a tour to Japan, said in a Facebook post.
A spokesman for the prime minister’s office said the yacht would arrive in Port Klang, west of the capital Kuala Lumpur, within the next 48 hours.
Mahathir also thanked Indonesian President Joko Widodo for his cooperation.
Ties between Malaysia and Indonesia are close with Mahathir visiting Jakarta in June, his first official tour of the region after a stunning election victory in May over Najib.
A total of US$4.5 billion was allegedly misappropriated by top-level 1MDB officials and their associates, according to civil lawsuits filed by the US justice department.
The suits allege that US$1.7 billion worth of assets were allegedly bought with the stolen funds, which US officials are seeking to recover.
Those assets include the 300-foot (90-metre) super-yacht owned by Low Taek Jho - popularly known as Jho Low - a close Najib associate and former unofficial adviser to 1MDB.
Low, a flamboyant playboy known for partying with Hollywood A-listers, was believed to have been sailing around Asia on the yacht before it was seized.
Najib, who set up 1MDB in 2009 and served as chairman of its advisory board, was charged in Malaysia in July with corruption offences linked to the scandal.
He denied all four charges and is currently out on bail.
Mahathir has vowed to recover the stolen loot. The country’s anti-corruption authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Jho Low.
Legal experts said the return of the yacht would bolster the case against Najib and other people linked to the scandal and could be used to prosecute Jho Low after the fugitive is caught.
“Of course it will help the prosecutors. It is part of the evidence of the crime committed. It is certainty a positive development in the investigations,” N. Surendran, adviser to a group called Lawyers for Liberty, said.