US begins return of US$200 million in 1MDB funds to Malaysia

US begins return of US$200 million in 1MDB funds to Malaysia

A former Goldman Sachs banker is scheduled to appear in US court today to face criminal charges in
File photo of 1MDB logo. (Photo: AFP/MANAN VATSYAYANA)

KUALA LUMPUR: The US government has begun returning to Malaysia around US$200 million recovered from asset seizures linked to state fund 1MDB, with about a quarter of the amount already repatriated, the two countries said on Tuesday (May 7).

Malaysian and US authorities say about US$4.5 billion were allegedly siphoned from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state fund founded in 2009 by then Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak.

Since losing a general election last year, Najib has been charged with more than 40 criminal offences linked to losses at 1MDB and other state entities. He has pleaded not guilty.

READ: 1MDB: Malaysia's extraordinary financial scandal

Since 2016, the US Department of Justice (DoJ), in the biggest-ever case in its anti-kleptocracy programme, has filed civil lawsuits seeking to seize about US$1.7 billion in assets allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB funds, including a private jet, luxury real estate, artwork and jewellery.

The United States will return to Malaysia about US$196 million in the first instalment of funds recovered from the asset seizures, US ambassador to Malaysia, Kamala Shirin Lahkdhir, said in a statement.

“We are extremely pleased that this first tranche of assets from this Justice Department investigation is being transferred back to Malaysia, demonstrating the US commitment to return these assets for the benefit of the people of Malaysia,” she said.

READ: Malaysia’s debt now more manageable, but government may sell more assets: PM Mahathir

So far, US$57 million has been returned to Malaysia following a settlement reached with Hollywood film production company Red Granite Pictures, which is linked to Najib's stepson Riza Aziz, Malaysia's Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said in a statement.

Red Granite had paid the US government US$60 million in September 2017 to settle a civil forfeiture claim over the rights to the 2013 Oscar-nominated film The Wolf Of Wall Street, which the DoJ says was financed with 1MDB funds.

A deduction of US$3 million from the settlement was made to reimburse costs incurred by US authorities in "investigating, seizing, litigating and securing settlement of the Red Granite funds", Thomas said.

READ: Malaysia to sell 1MDB-linked superyacht Equanimity for US$126m to Genting

The DoJ is also in the process of remitting another US$139 million, pending the sale of a Manhattan property linked to fugitive Malaysian financier, Low Taek Jho or Jho Low, Thomas said.

Low is facing criminal charges in Malaysia and the United States over his alleged central role in the 1MDB case. He has consistently denied wrongdoing and his whereabouts is unknown.

The latest money returned by the United States brings the total amount recovered by Malaysia to US$322 million. This includes US$126 million from the sale of a 300-ft luxury yacht allegedly bought by Low with 1MDB funds, Thomas said.

Singapore authorities have also ordered a separate return of S$50 million in 1MDB-linked funds to Malaysia, he added.

At least six countries, including the United States, Singapore and Switzerland, are investigating alleged graft and money laundering at 1MDB.

Source: Reuters/jt

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