PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS) - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed has thanked Indonesia for handing over the luxury yacht Equanimity to Malaysia on Monday (Aug 6).
The US$250 million (S$342 million) superyacht, which purportedly belonged to fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, is expected to arrive in Malaysia's Port Klang on Tuesday afternoon (Aug 7) after leaving Indonesia's Batam island.
"I am very grateful to the Indonesian government, especially to Bapak Jokowi, Indonesia's President, who has been so willing to cooperate with Malaysia to solve the problem faced by Malaysia," said Tun Dr Mahathir in a video posted on his Facebook page, using the popular nickname of Mr Joko Widodo.
Equanimity was seized in Bali on February at the request of US authorities as part of a multi-billion dollar corruption investigation launched by the United States Department of Justice into troubled Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
However, a Jakarta court ruled in April that the yacht was wrongfully impounded, releasing the vessel to its owners. The vessel, however, was not allowed to leave Tanjung Benoa port.
In July, Indonesian police seized the yacht again following a formal request for legal assistance from the US.
It has been reported that the Indonesian government decided to hand over the yacht to Malaysia following a personal request made by Dr Mahathir, who visited Indonesia in June.
"We have discovered that this vessel belongs to the Malaysian government because it was bought with Malaysia's money that was stolen by certain parties," said Dr Mahathir in the video. "If any parties wish to claim this vessel belongs to them, they can show proof they own this vessel... But according to the investigations and reports from the US Department of Justice, they are of the view this vessel was bought with funds stolen from 1MDB."
Responding to news that the Equanimity has been handed over to Malaysia, Mr Low said the move was illegal.
"The Mahathir regime’s illegal act today, ignoring court rulings in legal proceedings in the US and Indonesia, prove(s) he has no interest in a fair and just process," the financier said in a statement via his lawyers. "The yacht’s owner, Equanimity Cayman Limited, had already filed a claim on this asset, which Mahathir ignores. Further proceedings have been issued today in response to this illegal act."
Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng told reporters on Monday the government planned to take inventory of items on the yacht and open the vessel for public viewing, before eventually selling it “at the highest price”.
Mr Lim said Malaysia’s attorney-general Tommy Thomas was expected to issue a statement on Tuesday regarding the status of the yacht and address concerns that it could affect investigations by the DOJ.
A source said the vessel received its port clearance from the Batam Marine Department at 2.30pm on Monday, indicating that its next port of call is Port Klang. The source said at least four Malaysian policemen would accompany the ship and her crew to Malaysia.
Equanimity was seen in waters off Batam on Monday, where it dropped anchor for a few hours before setting sail again, presumably after Malaysian police had taken control of it.
It was spotted from shore in Batam near Nongsa Park, where a smaller boat was later seen laying up next to it for some time.
Batam Customs Compliance and Information chief R. Evy Suhartantyio said the yacht received its port clearance and was released to Malaysian police for its journey to Port Klang after his agency processed its paperwork.
The yacht had sailed from Tanjung Benoa port in Bali on Thursday.