KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia expects to recover as much as US$3.5 billion (S$4.8 billion) in funds potentially lost through 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), said Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.
The government may be able to regain at least 10 per cent of the RM50 billion (S$16.8 billion) in funds that Mr Lim estimated were siphoned from the troubled state fund, and up to 30 per cent of the amount "if we are lucky", he said in an interview.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said previously he is seeking to recoup US$4.5 billion.
Mr Lim's admission puts into perspective the difficulty in tracing the numerous complex transactions spanning the globe that Swiss Attorney-General Michael Lauber called a "Ponzi scheme".
The scandal surrounding the fund, which was set up under former prime minister Najib Razak to attract investment into Malaysia, has spawned worldwide investigations in at least 10 countries, including Singapore and the United States.
"We couldn't locate, we couldn't trace where the money went and what they purchased," Mr Lim, 57, told Bloomberg Television in Putrajaya. "Those that we can trace, there is also the question of ownership, due process as well as different national jurisdiction."
Malaysia hired Singapore-based law firm Tan Rajah & Cheah to help it recover the funds, while Swiss prosecutors pledged to return any stolen money to the country.
The domestic investigation into 1MDB has led to Najib being charged with several counts of criminal breach of trust and corruption. He has pleaded not guilty.
Mr Lim has parsed other large deals signed by the previous administration looking for suspicious activity.
He spoke out about 1MDB-linked ministry documents that were labelled as "red files" and kept hidden from state auditors, and called into question RM9.4 billion worth of pipeline projects involving a local company he dubbed an "offshoot" of 1MDB and a unit of China National Petroleum Corp.
He expects to reveal more scandals "in the billion-dollar range" during his tenure, with at least one more announced within the government's first 100 days in power.
"We will explain and we will review and disclose everything within 100 days, so that we can move on," he said.
"Because we cannot be existing on one expose after another. Scandal after scandal. No. We want to move on after that."
Meanwhile, US prosecutors negotiating a possible deal with a former Goldman Sachs executive are pressing for information about whether the bank turned a blind eye to the plunder of 1MDB, according to a person familiar with the matter.
If they reach a plea agreement with Mr Tim Leissner, the Goldman banker who arranged the fund's bond offerings, he would become a key witness against his superiors at the bank, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the matter is not public.
In Switzerland, its financial regulator Finma said that Rothschild Bank AG and one of its subsidiaries were found to have seriously breached money-laundering rules in the 1MDB case.
Finma said it will appoint an outside auditor to review controls put in place by the bank and its Rothschild Trust (Schweiz) AG unit.