The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it has repatriated an additional US$452 million (RM1.9 billion) in misappropriated 1MDB funds to the people of Malaysia, bringing the total returned to over US$1.2 billion.
According to court documents, the funds from 1MDB, formerly Malaysia’s investment development fund, were laundered through major financial institutions worldwide, including in the United States, Switzerland, Singapore, and Luxembourg, said the DOJ in a statement.
Since 2016, a landmark effort encompassing 41 civil forfeiture actions filed in the US District Court for the Central District of California and one in the US District Court for the District of Columbia by the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS) of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division led to the seizure of over US$1.7 billion in stolen assets.
"This is the largest recovery to date under the department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. The funds include both funds finally forfeited and funds the department assisted in recovering and returning.
"The department continues to litigate actions against additional assets allegedly linked to this scheme," said the DOJ.
The DOJ said as alleged in the civil forfeiture complaints, from 2009 through 2015, more than US$4.5 billion in funds belonging to 1MDB were allegedly misappropriated by high-level officials of 1MDB and their associates, and Low Taek Jho (aka Jho Low), through a criminal scheme involving international money laundering and embezzlement.
Some of the embezzlement proceeds were also allegedly used to pay bribes, it added.
1MDB was created by the government to promote economic development in Malaysia through global partnerships and foreign direct investment.
However, funds held by 1MDB, and proceeds of bonds issued for and on behalf of 1MDB were taken and spent on a wide variety of extravagant items, including luxury homes and properties in Beverly Hills, New York, and London; a 300-foot superyacht; and artworks by Monet and Van Gogh.
The funds were also used in numerous business investments, including a boutique hotel in Beverly Hills, a movie production company that made The Wolf of Wall Street while the embezzlement scheme was ongoing, the redevelopment of the Park Lane Hotel in Manhattan, and shares in EMI, the largest private music-rights holder. As alleged, other funds were provided to various public officials and co-conspirators.
The FBI’s International Corruption Squad in New York and Los Angeles as well as the IRS-Criminal Investigation are leading the probe.
The Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative is led by a team of dedicated MLARS prosecutors in partnership with federal law enforcement agencies, and often with US Attorneys’ Offices, to forfeit the proceeds of foreign official corruption and, where appropriate, to seize, forfeit and repatriate those recovered assets to benefit the people harmed by these acts of corruption and abuse of office.
Former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak is facing an RM2.28 billion 1MDB corruption trial in the High Court in Kuala Lumpur.
Najib is on trial for four counts of abuse of power and 21 counts of money laundering involving 1MDB funds.
He was also sentenced last year to a 12-year concurrent prison term, and an RM210 million fine in a related SRC International trial involving criminal breach of trust and money laundering charges.