KUALA LUMPUR • Potential witnesses to the multibillion dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) are afraid to speak with US investigators as they fear for their safety, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
FBI special agent Robert Heuchling cited Malaysian reports last month that said the driver of former Malaysian attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail was shot in public as a possible warning against assisting the US government in the case.
Tan Sri Gani had led investigations on 1MDB until he was replaced in 2015.
A total of US$4.5 billion (S$6.1 billion) was misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, according to dozens of civil lawsuits filed by the United States Justice Department in the past two years.
1MDB is at the centre of money-laundering investigations in at least six countries, including the US, Switzerland and Singapore.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak set up 1MDB in 2009 and served as chairman of its advisory board until last year.
He has denied any wrongdoing. The Prime Minister's Office and 1MDB did not respond to a request for comment on the FBI claims.
Individuals otherwise willing to provide information on the case have also told investigators that they were afraid they would "place the safety and security of both themselves and their families at serious risk", according to a declaration in the filing by FBI special agent Robert Heuchling.
In a federal court filing in Los Angeles, the FBI requested that the names of its informants in the case be kept secret, after many expressed concerns of retaliation if they were found to have been in contact with the US government.
Individuals otherwise willing to provide information on the case have also told investigators that they were afraid they would "place the safety and security of both themselves and their families at serious risk", according to a declaration in the filing by Mr Heuchling.
Last month, the US Justice Department asked for a stay on its civil lawsuits seeking to seize more than US$1 billion in assets allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB funds because it was conducting a related criminal probe.
The lawsuits filed by the department allege that the funds were stolen in four phases.
The lawsuits say those involved included Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, Datuk Seri Najib's stepson Riza Aziz, and Khadem al-Qubaisi, the former managing director of Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Co.
The trusts holding the assets on behalf of Mr Low, Mr Aziz, Mr al- Qubaisi and their families have opposed the request to put the civil proceedings on hold.
The Low trusts have asked the US to provide the identities of witnesses, sources of evidence, and thousands of documents that are relevant to the criminal investigation, the FBI said.
The Justice Department has sought to seize a total of about US$1.7 billion in assets that it said were bought with misappropriated 1MDB funds. The suits also claim that US$681 million in 1MDB funds found its way into the personal accounts of a so-called Malaysian Official 1.