Dr M: Show proof of ownership if you want to claim Equanimity

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on August 7, 2018.
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KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has challenged any party wanting to claim ownership of the seized luxury super yacht Equanimity, which has been returned by Indonesian authorities to the Malaysian government, to come forward and furnish proof of their claim.

Dr Mahathir said the Malaysian government believes the vessel, valued at US$250 million (RM1.02 billion), belongs to the country “because the vessel has been bought with Malaysian money stolen by certain parties”.

“If there is any party who wants to claim that this vessel belongs to them, they can show proof of ownership. We want to know where they can get so much money to buy such an expensive yacht. If they can prove that the money [used to buy Equanimity came from themselves and not from stolen money, then they have the right to claim back the yacht,” Dr Mahathir said in a two-and-a-half-minute video posted on his Facebook page from Fukuoka, Japan yesterday.

“However, according to the reports and investigations done by the US Department of Justice (DoJ), they are of the opinion that this vessel was purchased with money stolen from 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Bhd), which has been laundered by purchasing this vessel, buildings and others, so that the money won’t appear to be stolen funds,” Dr Mahathir added.

The DoJ previously alleged that the luxury yacht was among assets purchased by Low Taek Jho, nicknamed Jho Low and often referred to as the mastermind of the financial troubles at 1MDB, using funds siphoned from the state fund.

The DoJ filed a series of civil lawsuits in California, the US aiming to seize some US$1.7 billion worth of assets — including the yacht, a private jet, mansions, art works, jewellery, and film rights — that were purchased using funds stolen from 1MDB.

In the video, Dr Mahathir also expressed his gratitude to the Indonesian government for its cooperation in returning the seized super yacht to the Malaysian government.

“I am happy that the Equanimity yacht has been delivered to Malaysia by the Indonesian authorities. I would like to thank the Indonesian government, especially Bapak Jokowi (Joko Widodo), the Indonesian president, who has given close cooperation to Malaysia to help us solve one of the problems we are facing,” he added.


Super yacht to dock in Port Klang today

The Equanimity is expected to arrive at Port Klang on Pulau Indah, Selangor today, according to news reports, after Indonesian and Malaysian authorities reached an agreement and conducted the handover of the yacht in Batam.

It is learnt that the yacht has been sighted off the coast of Pengerang, Johor, as it rounded Singapore to head towards Port Klang.

The Prime Minister’s Office, in confirming yesterday afternoon that the vessel had been handed over to Malaysia, said “the handing-over process between the [two] authorities was in Batam”. On the vessel’s expected arrival to Malaysia, it said: “[The] safest we can say is within 48 hours.”

The 92m Cayman Islands-registered super yacht was first confiscated off the coast of Bali by Indonesian authorities in February. The seizure was later declared invalid and without legal basis, and so was nullified based on technical grounds.

Indonesian police subsequently seized the boat again in July following a formal request for legal assistance from the US. Indonesia then agreed it would hand over the yacht to Malaysia.

On Sunday, Low issued a statement through his lawyers condemning Malaysia’s possession of the yacht, claiming the move was “politically motivated” and that the decision went against court rulings in the US and Indonesia.

“The action of the [Dr] Mahathir government in illegitimately taking this asset shows just how quickly the rule of law disappears in [Dr] Mahathir’s regime,” the statement read.

“Actions like this make it increasingly clear that there is no jurisdiction where the issues in this case can be subject to a fair hearing thanks to a global media circus fuelled by politically motivated parties whose aim is to convict Mr Low in public arena.”