The US Government is all set to file a major civil lawsuit seeking to seize more than USD1 billion worth of assets allegedly purchased with money that was stolen from 1MDB by people close to Najib Razak, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal today reported. It is one of the largest asset seizures in the US history.
1MDB, whose advisory board was headed by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak until it was dissolved recently, is embroiled in multiple global probes related to allegations of money laundering and embezzlement. Najib’s family has been entangled in various alleged links to 1MDB funds, alongside a separate donation scandal that has caused more than a year of political tensions in Malaysia.bloomberg.com
While the asset seizures would be the first action linked to 1MDB taken by the US govt, it isn't known what assets would be seized
The asset seizure is being led by the Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, which was set up in 2010 to target the spoils of overseas corruption cases.
The move by U.S. authorities to seize assets tied to an investment fund run by a foreign government would be a major escalation in Washington’s global efforts to fight corruption and block allegedly illegally obtained funds from moving through the world’s financial system.
The expected actions by U.S. authorities also threaten to upend the country’s relationship with Malaysia that has long been an important U.S. ally in Southeast Asia.
In its court filing, the US Department of Justice will name Riza Aziz, stepson of Najib and son of Rosmah; Jho Low, the Malaysian financier who helped set up 1MDB, and Khadem Al Qubaisi, former MD of Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Co.
Investigators believe at least USD50 million of luxury real estate in New York City and Los Angeles was bought by Najib's stepson using funds originating with 1MDB.
Riza Aziz, Najib's stepson bought the two properties from Jho Low, who has even broader investments and dealings in the US.
The Journal reported in May how Jho Low had started liquidating an art collection worth at least USD300 million, including the sale of a prized Basquiat painting at a loss.
Meanwhile, Najib, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, will not be named in the complaint, The New York Times reported
There are at least 10 countries where probes against 1MDB are currently underway. The US Government's move to asset seizures would be a culminating moment for at least 6 of them.
The process, however, is quite lengthy
First, a court must make sure that no other interested party has a valid claim to the properties. Once true ownership is determined, the court must decide whether the money used to buy those assets was, in fact, earned illicitly. Only then can the government permanently seize the assets.
In the nearer term, the government’s action may increase the political pressure on Mr. Najib, who has been under fire since early 2015, as the Malaysian public has become concerned about the corruption allegations and his rivals have sought to oust him.
Meanwhile, in a 35-minute long press conference, the US Government authorities delivered remarks, each describing particular aspects of the complaints. Here are the key takeaways:
Earlier this year in April, Najib had opined that the state investment firm will leave a lasting "legacy", despite a colossal amount of flak and international graft probes against it: