LOS ANGELES • Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho's family is reaching far and wide to stop the United States from seizing US$650 million (S$921 million) in real estate and investments the government claims were acquired with funds stolen from his home country.
The family of the businessman also known as Jho Low claims the Swiss trustees holding their assets are afraid to fight back against the US for fear of being prosecuted in the global game of investment hide-and-seek set off by the alleged disappearance of more than US$3.5 billion of the US$8 billion raised by 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
Four relatives of Mr Low, including his father and brother, now say they will ask courts in the Cayman Islands and New Zealand to replace the Swiss trustees - so they can avoid having their possessions go to the US by default.
The US Justice Department is targeting real estate, investments and art works that were allegedly bought with money siphoned off from 1MDB.
The Low assets at issue include a US$380 million stake in New York's Park Lane Hotel, a US$107 million interest in EMI Music Publishing, a US$35 million Bombardier jet, and a US$30 million penthouse at Time Warner Centre in New York.
The trusts that hold the Low assets call for application of either New Zealand or Cayman Islands law, according to the family's filing on Monday.
Mr Low is also friends with Mr Riza Aziz, a stepson of Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Mr Low has said he provided consulting to 1MDB that did not break any laws, while the state-owned fund and PM Najib have both denied wrongdoing.
The US will oppose the Low family's request to delay a Dec 12 hearing over whether they can intervene in the forfeiture case, said a spokesman for US Attorney Eileen Decker in Los Angeles.
Separately, 1MDB is preparing to make a repayment, with assistance from China, to Abu Dhabi's state-owned fund as it seeks to settle a US$6.5 billion dispute over an alleged breach of contract, the Financial Times reported yesterday.
The Straits Times in July said mainland Chinese companies were looking at buying a piece of 1MDB-owned prime land in Penang as a financial lifeline for 1MDB.
The move to begin repaying what 1MDB owes Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Company was confirmed by two people familiar with the matter, FT said.
China has been approached as a source of funds for 1MDB, FT cited three people with knowledge of the matter as saying. One of them said Malaysia would swop assets for financing.