20
Jun
17

U.S. Moves to Seize Diamonds, a Picasso and Hollywood Films in Malaysian Case – NY Times

U.S. Moves to Seize Diamonds, a Picasso and Hollywood Films in Malaysian Case

BANGKOK — A Picasso painting given to the actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the rights to two Hollywood comedies and a $27.3 million diamond necklace belonging to the wife of Malaysia’s prime minister are among half a billion dollars in assets sought by the United States in a widening money-laundering inquiry.

A complaint filed on Thursday by the United States Justice Department seeks $540 million in assets, including a luxury yacht and expensive real estate, that it says were bought with money stolen from a government fund in Malaysia overseen by the country’s prime minister, Najib Razak.

Together with a previous complaint, the Justice Department is seeking nearly $1.7 billion in assets it says were stolen from the fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, and laundered through financial institutions in the United States.

The complaint says that more than $4.5 billion was “misappropriated” by high-level Malaysian officials and their associates. A complaint filed last year said that $731 million from the fund was deposited into bank accounts belonging to Mr. Najib.

“These cases involve billions of dollars that should have been used to help the people of Malaysia, but instead was used by a small number of individuals to fuel their astonishing greed,” the acting United States attorney, Sandra R. Brown, said in a statement.

Mr. Najib, who is identified in the 251-page complaint only as Malaysian Official 1, has denied any wrongdoing. He has boasted of golfing with President Trump, but any hope he had that Mr. Trump’s election might curb the American investigation appears to have been dashed.

Mr. Najib’s attorney general, Mohamed Apandi Ali, issued a statement on Friday noting that investigations by Mr. Najib’s government had found no evidence that money was misappropriated.

Mr. Najib’s press secretary, Tengku Sariffuddin, suggested the United States’ action was politically motivated. Malaysia is “concerned by the unnecessary and gratuitous naming of certain matters and individuals that are only relevant to domestic political manipulation and interference,” he said. “This suggests a motivation that goes beyond the objective of seizing assets.”

The Malaysian government created the fund in 2008 ostensibly to promote economic development. But it borrowed heavily, and much of the money was used in questionable investment schemes.

A central player in establishing the fund was Jho Low, a friend of Mr. Najib’s stepson, Riza Aziz.

The latest complaint seeks to recover more than $400 million from Mr. Low, including his $250 million yacht, Equanimity. Mr. Low’s location is unknown.

Mr. Low used some of the funds to finance a lavish style and befriend celebrities, including hiring them to attend parties, the complaint says.

It seeks the recovery of more than $8 million in diamond jewelry that Mr. Low is said to have given to Miranda Kerr, an Australian model, including an 11.72-carat, heart-shaped diamond for Valentine’s Day in 2014. Ms. Kerr could not be reached immediately for comment.

…more
U.S. Moves to Seize Diamonds, a Picasso and Hollywood Films in Malaysian Case
JUNE 16, 2017 – NY Times

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