RM1.3b stolen 1MDB money recovered so far

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on May 8, 2019.

(From left) Thomas, US Ambassador to Malaysia Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng and US Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John P Cronan meeting yesterday. Thomas says the US government has returned and will be returning substantial monies to Malaysia.

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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has thus far recovered US$322 million — equivalent to about RM1.3 billion — worth of assets belonging to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), where billions have been looted, since investigations into the strategic investment fund “effectively began” after the change of government following the May 9 polls last year, according to Attorney General Tommy Thomas.

He revealed this in a statement yesterday, in which he announced that the US government had returned US$57.04 million (RM236.72 million) given up by Red Granite Pictures, a US-based film production company linked to former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his stepson Riza Aziz.

Riza, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor’s son from a previous marriage before she wedded Najib, co-founded Red Granite, which produced the Hollywood film The Wolf of Wall Street.

The money, which has been credited into Malaysia’s 1MDB asset recovery account — a segregated trust account opened specifically for this purpose — is part of the US$60 million that was forfeited from Red Granite following a settlement recorded before the Court of California in the US in March last year in a suit that alleged the movie was funded by money siphoned from 1MDB.

The US government deducted about US$3 million from the money it collected to reimburse costs incurred by its Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in “investigating, seizing, litigating and securing settlement for the Red Granite funds”.

The amount deducted also included costs incurred by the DoJ and FBI in investigating, seizing and maintaining the luxury superyacht Equanimity, when it was arrested in Indonesian waters before arriving in Malaysian waters, the statement read.

“The US government has returned and will be returning substantial monies to Malaysia, representing the first instalment of funds recovered from asset seizures related to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) under the US Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative,” Thomas said in the statement.

He also noted that the DoJ had recently announced that out of the US$4.5 billion wrongfully diverted from 1MDB, it is seeking to forfeit an estimated US$1.7 billion worth of assets — including Equanimity — through its numerous civil forfeiture complaints filed from 2016 to 2019.

The returned US$57.04 million, together with proceeds of the sale of Equanimity by the Malaysian Admiralty Court last month for US$126 million, and another US$139 million that the DoJ is in the process of returning to Malaysia from the sale of Jho Low’s interest in the Park Lane Hotel, Manhattan, bring the tally to around US$322 million.

Proceeds of the sale of the Park Lane Hotel, however, will also see a certain amount deducted for costs incurred by the DoJ and FBI during their investigations into the matter, before the balance is returned to Malaysia, according to Thomas.

Meanwhile, a separate sum of S$50 million of funds traceable to 1MDB has been ordered by the Singapore courts to be repatriated. “S$15 million was credited into the 1MDB asset recovery account between September last year and March this year. The balance of S$35 million will be credited shortly,” Thomas said.

“Such recovery could not be achieved without the assistance and excellent cooperation that the Malaysian authorities enjoy with our counterparts in the United States and Singapore.

“We express our gratitude to them. 1MDB asset recovery efforts across the globe are still ongoing, and Malaysia is optimistic about recovering further monies in the coming months,” he added.