US agrees USD700M settlement including luxury hotel, jet over 1MDB

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The Malaysian financier at the heart of the massive 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) graft scandal has struck a settlement to forfeit assets worth USD700 million including a Beverly Hills hotel and a private jet, the United States (US) Justice Department said on Wednesday.

Jho Low will relinquish the assets under the largest ever US civil forfeiture, intended to recover cash allegedly stolen in the 1MDB scandal which helped topple Malaysia’s corruption-plagued former regime.

“A staggering amount of money embezzled from 1MDB at the expense of the people of Malaysia was laundered through the purchase of big-ticket assets in the US and other nations,” said US Attorney Nick Hanna.

“Thanks to this settlement, one of the men allegedly at the centre of this massive scheme will lose all access to hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Low, a flamboyant, jet-setting playboy known for partying with Hollywood A-listers, was a former unofficial adviser to 1MDB – a fund established with the ostensible aim of boosting Malaysia’s economy.

Billions of dollars were looted from the investment vehicle between 2009 and 2014 and spent on everything from yachts to expensive artwork, in a fraud allegedly involving disgraced Malaysian ex-premier NajibRazak and his cronies. Tens of millions of dollars in stolen money was used by Najib’s stepson, an aspiring film producer, to fund the Hollywood film The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Low allegedly used funds “to engage in extravagant spending sprees, acquiring one-of-kind artwork and luxury real estate, gambling freely at casinos, and propping up his lavish lifestyle,” said assistant attorney-general Brian Benczkowski.

“This settlement agreement forces Low and his family to relinquish hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains that were intended to be used for the benefit of the Malaysian people,” he added.

The settlement allows for the release of USD15 million to Low’s counsel to pay for legal fees and costs. It was filed in California on Wednesday.

Combined with previous settlements covering a USD120 million superyacht, a New York hotel and other assets, it brings the total amount recovered by the US to more than USD1 billion.