US officials preparing to charge Malaysian financier Jho Low: WSJ

Mr Low directed funds from 1MDB to connected individuals and for "personal gratification", US prosecutors had said.
Mr Low directed funds from 1MDB to connected individuals and for "personal gratification", US prosecutors had said.

Charges against him and associates would include wire fraud linked to 1MDB probe

WASHINGTON • The United States authorities are planning to file criminal charges against Malaysian financier Jho Low in a money-laundering investigation surrounding 1Malaysia Development Berhad, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

Charges against Mr Low and some of his associates would include wire fraud, the paper said, citing people it did not identify.

Officials of the US Justice Department had visited Singapore earlier this month "to conduct interviews related to Mr Low and other aspects of the 1MDB matter", the journal said, quoting two people with knowledge of the trip.

Among the questions asked were about his attendance at certain meetings and his role in structuring deals, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private.

The journal said the prosecution's plans could change or be dropped as the probe continues and there was no timing provided on when the charges could be filed.

1MDB is at the heart of multiple investigations across the globe, with US prosecutors previously characterising Mr Low as the controller of a scheme involving dozens of illicit payments draining billions from the state fund.

Huge sums are believed to have moved through Singapore, Switzerland and other wealth centres in order to buy art and real estate and to invest in Hollywood movies.

The US Department of Justice said in July last year that more than US$3.5 billion (S$4.9 billion) was misappropriated from 1MDB.

Mr Low, known for partying with American celebrities Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, directed funds from 1MDB to connected individuals and for the "personal gratification" of himself and his associates, US prosecutors had said.

Mr Low had described to newspapers his ties to 1MDB as informal consulting work that did not break any laws. 1MDB has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Singapore police in November identified Mr Low as a "key person of interest" in its money-laundering probe.  Singapore is also building a potential criminal case against Mr Low, the journal said, citing a person familiar with the probe that it did not identify.

Singapore, a regional financial centre known for its tough stance against corruption, was the first country to hand down criminal convictions related to the 1MDB probes.

The nation's courts have jailed four private bankers so far, in relation to the probe.

Singapore has also closed the local branches of two Swiss private banks - BSI and Falcon Private Bank - used in the transfer of illicit funds.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore also banned a former Goldman Sachs banker from working in the country's financial industry for 10 years after he was linked to the 1MDB scandal, and said it plans to impose bans on three more people.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's government has said it will cooperate with lawful investigations of local companies or its citizens in relation to the fund.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2017, with the headline 'US officials preparing to charge Malaysian financier Jho Low: WSJ'. Print Edition | Subscribe