US returns US$57 million in first tranche of 1MDB money to Malaysia

The money was part of the US$60 million forfeited by Red Granite Pictures, a US-based film production company behind Wolf Of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio (above).
The money was part of the US$60 million forfeited by Red Granite Pictures, a US-based film production company behind Wolf Of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio (above).PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

KUALA LUMPUR - The United States government has returned the first tranche of money recouped from state fund 1MDB to Malaysia.

Malaysia's Attorney-General Tommy Thomas announced on Tuesday (May 7) that a sum of US$57 million (S$77.6 million) has been banked into an asset recovery account the government set up for 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The money was part of the US$60 million forfeited by Red Granite Pictures, a US-based film production company co-founded by Mr Riza Aziz, stepson of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak.

US prosecutors had accused Mr Riza of using funds embezzled from 1MDB to finance Red Granite's films, including Wolf Of Wall Street, as well as throw lavish parties and buy gifts for celebrities.

The US$57 million was the total left after the deduction of about US$3 million costs incurred by US authorities while investigating the company and also in maintaining mega yacht Equanimity, which had been bought by fugitive financier Jho Low allegedly with 1MDB funds, after it was seized by the authorities.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ), under its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, has also sold off Low's interest in Park Lane Hotel in Manhattan, New York for  US$139 million.

The US$139 million - less costs incurred by the DOJ and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in investigating, seizing, litigating and securing settlement for the asset - will be banked in Malaysia.

 
 
 
 

1MDB, Malaysia's beleaguered state-owned fund, had amassed debts of over RM55 billion (S$18 billion) at its peak, according to the country's declassified auditor-general's report.

In an intricate web of financial fraud that crossed continents, money raised by 1MDB from loans was allegedly spent on high-end property, luxury goods and lavish holidays and parties involving Najib, his family and associates such as Low.

In his statement on Tuesday, Mr Thomas said Malaysia has so far "recovered US$322 million worth of 1MDB assets since investigation into 1MDB effectively began after the 14th general election in May 2018".

He added that Singapore had transferred S$15 million to Malaysia between last September and March this year. A sum of S$50 million traceable to 1MDB was ordered by Singapore courts to be repatriated to Malaysia. The balance of S$35 million will be transferred soon, according to Mr Thomas.

On Monday, Mr Thomas announced that the judicial sale of Equanimity, for US$126 million, has been completed, while saying in a separate announcement, that former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng has been extradited to the US to be charged for his involvement in 1MDB.

Low, in a statement issued on his website, said in response to Ng's extradition: "It's troubling that the Malaysian regime is attempting to tout its cooperation and relationship with the US when it shares no common ground on basic human and legal rights and when it is led by a self-proclaimed anti-Semite." He was referring to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.