Relatives of Malaysian businessman Jho Low fight US forfeiture of 1MDB-linked assets

Four family members of Mr Low Taek Jho (pictured), also known as Jho Low, have initiated claims for properties which the US said he bought with money from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Four family members of Mr Low Taek Jho (pictured), also known as Jho Low, have initiated claims for properties which the US said he bought with money from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).PHOTO: THE STAR PUBLICATION

LOS ANGELES (BLOOMBERG) - Relatives of the financier accused by US prosecutors of playing a central role in siphoning more than US$3.5 billion (S$4.87 billion) from Malaysia's state investment fund are fighting attempts to seize assets acquired with misappropriated funds.

Four family members of Mr Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, have initiated claims for properties which the US said he bought with money from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), including a US$100-million interest in EMI Music Publishing Group, a US$35 million Bombardier jet, and a US$200-million stake in the Park Lane Hotel in New York.

The family members, including Mr Low's brother and father, say they are beneficiaries of the family-owned trust that controls the assets and were forced to file claims themselves because the Swiss trustees have refused to take any action in the forfeiture lawsuits, according to filings on Monday (Oct 31) in the Los Angeles federal court.

The trustees fear that any such involvement could potentially expose them to "criminal liability for participation in money laundering", according to Mr Low's family.

The businessman himself isn't filing any claims but he's listed among the beneficiaries of the trusts together with his family members.

Representatives of the trustees, Rothschild Trust (Schweiz) AG and Kendris, didn't immediately respond to e-mails outside regular business hours seeking comment on the court filings.

The Justice Department is seeking to seize US$1 billion in assets bought with funds allegedly laundered through the US banking system. Mr Low has previously denied any wrongdoing and he isn't a defendant in the civil forfeiture complaints.

Funds diverted from 1MDB were used for the personal benefit of public officials and their relatives and associates to purchase luxury real estate in the US, pay gambling expenses at Las Vegas casinos and acquire more than US$200 million in artwork, the Justice Department said in a series of complaints filed in July.

The Malaysia fund is at the centre of several international investigations into alleged corruption and money laundering by public officials. Prosecutors in at least four countries - Singapore, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the US - are looking into money flows from the investment vehicle, which was established for national development.