Malaysia claims over $31.4 billion from those who allegedly defrauded state investment firm 1MDB

Nearly 40 individuals, including former premier Najib Razak, and 17 entities were among those named in the suits. PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia is claiming more than RM96.6 billion (S$31.4 billion) from a number of individuals, including former premier Najib Razak, banks and various firms involved in the financial scandal at state investment firm 1MDB.

The Finance Ministry said on Monday (May 10) 22 different claims were filed in court on April 7 on behalf of the state-owned firm and its former subsidiary, SRC International - both of which were at the centre of the scandal that reverberated around the world following revelations in 2015 that RM2.6 billion from 1MDB had found its way into Najib's personal accounts. He was premier then.

Nearly 40 individuals and 17 entities were among those named in the suits.

The financial daily, The Edge, reported that they included former top 1MDB officials, such as chief executives Shahrol Halmi and Arul Kanda Kandasamy, and fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, who is widely regarded as the mastermind of the alleged fraud at 1MDB, as well as members of his family and inner circle.

The likes of Deutsche Bank (Malaysia), Coutts & Co as well as JP Morgan (Switzerland) were also accused of facilitating deals which led to billions being siphoned from taxpayers.

"Some people are having doubts about the 1MDB scandal, but not this government. We will pursue all wrongdoers until Malaysians get justice," Datuk Wan Saiful Wan Jan, information chief for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, told The Straits Times.

The civil suits filed last Friday are separate from ongoing criminal trials into alleged graft aimed at some of the same individuals.

Najib - who lost his grip on power after Umno and the coalition it led suffered their first-ever election loss in six decades in 2018 - has already been convicted for abuse of power in connection with approving a RM4 billion loan from the civil service pension fund, RM42 million of which ended up in his bank account.

He is currently appealing a 12-year sentence and RM210 million fine.

The amount being claimed by the Muhyiddin government in the suits is far in excess of any estimate of lost funds, or even the peak level of debt - more than RM50 billion - that once saddled 1MDB.

Since coming to power in March last year, the Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration has pursued settlements with various firms involved with 1MDB, and so far has recovered close to RM20 billion.

"Following significant and successful settlements with Goldman Sachs, AmBank Group and Deloitte PLT, the government's recovery efforts are now focused on pursuing other wrongdoers who have caused losses to 1MDB and/or SRC during the execution of their duties," said Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz.

"The government will not rest until all those involved are made fully accountable for the wrongdoings caused to the country through their involvement in 1MDB and/or SRC."

The PN government has also gone ahead with seizures of alleged embezzled funds from 1MDB and SRC that began under the previous Pakatan Harapan administration in 2018, although several such moves have been overturned in court. A number of the seizures involve the accounts of Umno branches and leaders.

Umno is part of Mr Muhyiddin's ruling pact but in recent months has declared it would part ways once an election is called, as it seeks to reclaim its dominance of Malaysian politics.

The premier has promised fresh polls once an emergency declared amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is lifted by August.

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