KL alleges US manipulation in 1MDB civil lawsuit

PM Najib's aide says naming of certain matters and individuals 'unnecessary and gratuitous'

The United States authorities seized US$540 million (S$745 million) in assets allegedly stolen from state investor 1MDB. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Malaysian government has slammed the move by the United States authorities to seize US$540 million (S$745 million) in assets allegedly stolen from state investor 1MDB.

It said the Department of Justice (DoJ) failed to seek cooperation from both the government and 1MDB's management over the matter.

Prime Minister Najib Razak's press secretary, Tengku Sarifuddin Tengku Ahmad, in a statement yesterday expressed concern over the "unnecessary and gratuitous" naming of certain matters and individuals that he claimed is tantamount to "domestic political manipulation and interference".

In its third civil lawsuit filing on Thursday, the DoJ said it has taken action to recover misappropriated assets from 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB). These included a pink diamond necklace worth US$27.3 million allegedly bought for Datuk Seri Najib's wife Rosmah Mansor by businessman Low Taek Jho, who has said he was an unofficial adviser to 1MDB in its early years.

Tengku Sarifuddin said the public disclosure of the case "suggests a motivation that goes beyond the objective of seizing assets".

In an e-mailed statement issued through a representative, Mr Low said the DoJ's actions were "a further example of global overreach in pursuit of a deeply flawed case", Reuters reported yesterday.

"The US Department of Justice's latest move continues its inappropriate efforts to seize assets despite not having proven that any improprieties have occurred," Mr Low said, as quoted by the news agency.

The DoJ is alleging that more than US$4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB, a sovereign fund set up by Mr Najib in 2009. "We simply will not allow the United States to be a place where corrupt individuals can expect to hide assets and lavishly spend money that should be used for the benefit of citizens of other nations," Mr Kenneth Blanco, Acting Assistant Attorney-General, said in a statement when announcing the latest lawsuit. The DoJ's move was its first in the 1MDB case under Mr Donald Trump's five- month-old administration.

The scandal which blew up in 2015 saw Mr Najib sacking his former deputy Muhyiddin Yassin and the attorney-general. Critics see the investigations as having stalled in Malaysia, while the legal authorities in places including Switzerland, Luxembourg and Hong Kong are continuing with their probes.

Opposition veteran Lim Kit Siang has urged Mr Najib to resolve the "bigger" 1MDB scandal with the level of conviction he had shown in dealing with the financial crisis engulfing Felda Global Ventures, a plantation company linked closely to the Premier's Malay voter base.

In Singapore, where some of the 1MDB funds were believed to have flowed out from Malaysia, four bankers have been jailed for fraud related to the affair and two Swiss- based banks were shut down.

Malaysia's Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali yesterday called the latest filing a "repeat" of last year's suit. He said there is no evidence of misappropriation of 1MDB funds, nor has there been any criminal charge against any individual.

1MDB in its statement noted that the civil lawsuit does not contain any appendices with documentary proof or witness statements to support the allegations.

Amid talk of a general election soon, political analyst Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani said: "The allegations in the filing are quite damning but will the opposition be able to... capitalise on this? I think not."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2017, with the headline KL alleges US manipulation in 1MDB civil lawsuit. Subscribe