Malaysian businessman Jho Low baulks at US plan to move seized US$250m yacht

People seen on deck after Indonesian officials boarded the luxury yacht Equanimity, at Benoa Bay in Bali on Feb 28, 2018. The US last month asked the Indonesian government to seize the yacht and hand it over.
People seen on deck after Indonesian officials boarded the luxury yacht Equanimity, at Benoa Bay in Bali on Feb 28, 2018. The US last month asked the Indonesian government to seize the yacht and hand it over.PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (BLOOMBERG) - Low Taek Jho, the Malaysian financier accused by the US of orchestrating a scheme to siphon US$4.5 billion (S$5.9 billion) from a government fund, is baulking at Justice Department plans to move his US$250 million yacht to the US from Indonesia.

"The government does not know how to properly maintain or market a luxury yacht as unique and distinctive as the M/Y 'Equanimity,"' lawyers said in a request on Monday (March 26) for an emergency order to keep it anchored in Bali.

The attorneys represent the trusts that are fighting the US forfeiture lawsuit for the seized 300-foot vessel.

"For instance, the government is contemplating reducing the number of crew members from more than 20 to just eight, a number so low that it would endanger the lives of the crew on board and wreak havoc on the condition of the yacht," they said.

In addition, the Justice Department wants to sell the yacht in the US, where the market for luxury yacht is "anemic" through the end of the fall, according to the filing in federal court in Los Angeles, compared to Mediterranean locations such as Monaco or Barcelona.

There's no evidence that a sale in the US would diminish the yacht's value, the Justice Department said in a court request to gain custody of the "Equanimity".

The government cited a 2017 Global Superyachts Market Analysis report in which North America held a 45 percent market share for the sale of "superyachts".

 
 

In June, US prosecutors filed a second round of forfeiture lawsuits in their efforts to recover assets they claim were acquired with money stolen from 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

The claim's included the yacht Low, commonly known as Jho Low, bought in 2014, as well as a US$1.29 million heart-shaped diamond and a US$3.8 million diamond pendant he gave that year to his then-girlfriend, actress Miranda Kerr.

Other assets linked to stolen 1MDB funds include real estate in London, New York and Beverly Hills, a stake in EMI Music Publishing and a US$35 million Bombardier Jet.

After the Justice Department filed its forfeiture lawsuit against the yacht last year, Low instructed its crew to keep it away from countries such as Singapore and Australia, whose governments were likely to seize the vessel, and instead stick to "safe" places such as Cambodia and Vietnam, according to the US's filing.

When the US learned last month that the yacht was moored off the island of Bali, it asked the Indonesian government to seize it and hand it over. The trusts that claim ownership of the yacht have filed a lawsuit in Indonesia challenging the seizure.