PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS) - Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak's press secretary has slammed the US authorities' move to seize another US$540 million (S$748 million) in assets allegedly stolen from scandal-plagued state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The US Department of Justice (DoJ) took legal action on Thursday (June 15) to recover the assets which the authorities say were stolen by financiers associated with 1MDB, including a Picasso painting that was given to actor Leonardo DiCaprio and the rights to two Hollywood films.
The filing in US District Court in Los Angeles was the Justice Department's latest step in a long-running case over an alleged conspiracy to launder money misappropriated from 1MDB, which was set up by Mr Najib in 2009 to promote economic development.
In the complaints, which are all civil actions, the Justice Department alleged that more than US$4.5 billion was taken from 1MDB by high-level fund officials and their associates.
"We simply will not allow the United States to be a place where corrupt individuals can expect to hide assets and lavishly spend money that should be used for the benefit of citizens of other nations," Mr Kenneth Blanco, acting assistant attorney general, said in a statement on Thursday.
Responding to the move on Friday, Mr Najib's press secretary Tengku Sarifuddin Tengku Ahmad called it "unnecessary and gratuitous" naming of certain matters and individuals that are only relevant to "domestic political manipulation and interference".
He also alleged that DoJ has again failed to seek cooperation from the Malaysian government or 1MDB.
"This suggests a motivation that goes beyond the objective of seizing assets," he said.
Tengku Sarifuddin said there have been numerous and extensive investigations by Malaysian authorities into 1MDB that concluded no crime was found.
"1MDB is still the subject of an investigation by the Royal Malaysia Police. If there is evidence of wrongdoing, Malaysia will not hesitate to take action," he said. "Until then, unproven allegations should not be taken as facts," said Tengku Sarifuddin.
"We are confident that justice will take its course and Malaysia will continue to cooperate with all willing international agencies.
"As the Prime Minister has always maintained, if any wrongdoing is proven, the law will be enforced without exception," he said.
In its own statement, 1MDB noted that "it is not a party to the DoJ civil lawsuit nor has it been contacted by the DoJ in relation to this matter".
"1MDB notes that the civil lawsuit does not contain any appendices with documentary proof or witness statements to support the allegations made by the DoJ," the statement added.
"As previously stated, 1MDB will fully cooperate with any foreign lawful authority, subject to international protocols governing such matters and the advice of the relevant domestic lawful authorities."
Separately Malaysia's Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said it was not informed by the DoJ of its latest civil lawsuits against 1MDB.
The AGC maintained that there is no evidence of misappropriation of 1MDB funds, nor has there been any criminal charges against any individual over the matter.