Jho Low demands information from US on super yacht's fate

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KUALA LUMPUR (Aug 7): Malaysia has issued a warrant to formally seize a US$250-million super yacht at the center of a tug-of-war between Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and financier Jho Low.

The Attorney-General’s Chambers issued the arrest warrant on Aug 6, thereby the vessel is “properly seized under the laws of Malaysia,” the nation’s top prosecutor Tommy Thomas said in a statement. The yacht arrived at a port in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, after it traveled from Indonesia where it was seized in February as part of the US Justice Department’s probe into 1MDB.

As Dr Mahathir called for the yacht’s owner to prove that it wasn’t bought using money from the Malaysian state fund, lawyers representing Low Taek Jho filed a notice to a California district court on Monday to direct the US government to reveal its knowledge of the transfer of the yacht to Malaysia. Thomas said the seizure was the result of mutual legal assistance treaties between Indonesia, Malaysia and the US, which were activated recently, as well as high-level talks at agencies in the three countries.

In the Monday filing, Low’s legal team opposed the US government’s request to suspend proceedings while it finds out Malaysia’s intentions for the ship. His lawyers also asked the US to state any efforts it has made to secure the vessel and get clarification from Malaysia in a status report by Aug 17.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the US attorney’s office in Los Angeles, said the US was not party to the agreement between Indonesia and Malaysia.

The yacht, which was seized by Indonesian police in February, is among the US$1.7 billion of assets that US investigators said were illegally bought using money diverted from state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd. Dr Mahathir thanked Indonesian President Joko Widodo for his cooperation in transferring the vessel and “resolving the problem faced by Malaysia,” he said in a Monday statement.

Dr Mahathir is seeking to reclaim US$4.5 billion of funds potentially lost through the troubled state fund, including by trying to recover fees from Goldman Sachs Group Inc and taking legal action to recoup compensation paid to the fund’s ex-president. Malaysia is considering selling the yacht and returning the funds to the public, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said on Monday, adding that the attorney-general will first ensure proper proceedings.

Malaysia has issued an arrest warrant for Low, who remains at large. The police received information from their Macau counterparts that he had left the territory for an unknown location as of early July, with no further insight on his whereabouts.