Jho Low's family fights US seizure of 1MDB-linked assets

LOS ANGELES • Relatives of a financier accused by US prosecutors of playing a central role in siphoning more than US$3.5 billion (S$4.9 billion) from Malaysia's state investment fund are fighting attempts to seize assets acquired with misappropriated funds.

Four family members of Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, have initiated claims for properties the US said he bought with money from the 1MDB fund, 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 in 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.

Mr Low himself is not filing any claims but he is listed among the beneficiaries of the trust together with his family members.

The US Justice Department is seeking to seize US$1 billion in assets bought with funds allegedly laundered through the country's banking system.

Mr Low has previously denied any wrongdoing and he is not a defendant in the civil forfeiture suit.

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

The Malaysian fund is at the centre of several international investigations into alleged corruption and money laundering.

Meanwhile, in a matter related to 1MDB, Malaysia's Second Finance Minister Johari Abdul Ghani yesterday said the government's company SRC International is unable to retrieve its funds parked at Swiss lender BSI Bank. This is because BSI is being investigated for alleged involvement in the 1MDB case.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2016, with the headline 'Jho Low's family fights US seizure of 1MDB-linked assets'. Print Edition | Subscribe