By Anton Muhajir and N. Nantha
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has requested a meeting with Indonesian police related to the handing over to the United States of a mega-yacht allegedly bought with money looted from Malaysian state investment fund 1MDB, officials in Indonesia said Thursday.
Indonesian and U.S. authorities last week impounded the Equanimity, a Cayman Islands-flagged vessel, while it was moored off the Indonesian island of Bali.
“The FBI has asked me if they can meet me regarding the handing over process of the ship,” Inspector Gen. Petrus Reinhard Golose, the Bali police chief, told BenarNews.
“The ship is still being held at Benoa Harbor in accordance with a court order,” he said, adding that the yacht’s captain, Rolf Andrian Henry Berry of South Africa, and its 29 crewmembers were on board.
News agencies, meanwhile, were reporting that Indonesia was preparing to hand over the yacht to U.S. authorities.
That “is in the process of being done,” Agence France-Presse quoted Indonesian national police senior detective Daniel Silitonga on Thursday.
In civil lawsuits filed in June 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) alleged that Malaysian business tycoon Jho Low, whose full name is Low Taek Jho, had paid U.S. $250 million for the 100-meter (300-foot) Equanimity by using some of the $4.5 billion allegedly misappropriated from the state fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
But Jho Low was not among the 34 people who were on the yacht when authorities raided it eight days ago, officials said. Low’s whereabouts remain unknown.
Malaysia’s police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said his office was awaiting information about the yacht.
“Malaysian police have not received any information, either from Indonesian authorities or the FBI, regarding the seizure of Equanimity on Feb. 28,” Fuzi told BenarNews on Thursday.
Inspector Gen. Setyo Wasisto, the Indonesian national police spokesman, told reporters Friday that the yacht’s Automatic Identification System, which would allow satellites to pinpoint its location, had been switched off several times in the waters around Singapore and the Philippines, before it entered Indonesian waters in November 2017.
Letter from the FBI
Indonesian police seized the Equanimity after receiving a letter from the FBI on Feb. 21 requesting help to enforce a court order, officials said.
The seizure came days before a March 16 court-mandated deadline for the DOJ to file its first report on the status of its criminal probe.
In August 2017, the department asked a California court to put aside its civil lawsuits seeking to recover real-estate and other assets because it was trying to protect evidence and witnesses in its ongoing criminal investigation. DOJ did not announce who were the targets of its criminal probe.
1MDB, at the center of money-laundering investigations in at least six countries, including Switzerland and Singapore, was formed in 2009 ostensibly to pursue projects that would benefit Malaysian citizens through development projects that primarily relied on the issuance of debt securities, U.S. officials said.
It was instead used to satiate the ostentatious lifestyle of those with power over it during a five-year period, between 2009 and 2014, according to court documents.
Low, who served as an adviser on the creation of TIA, the predecessor entity of 1MDB, publicly denied any involvement with the state fund, court documents said. He has never held a formal position at 1MDB.
Court documents obtained by BenarNews show that DOJ accused Low of laundering more than $400 million stolen from 1MDB through acquisitions of properties in California, New York and London. Other than the yacht, he also allegedly spent millions of dollars on paintings and a jet for $35 million.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who founded 1MDB in 2009, served as chairman of its advisory board, but Malaysian Attorney General Apandi Ali had earlier cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Najib and officials of the fund also denied the embezzlement allegations.
Funds shipped through multiple accounts
Equanimity, built by Oceanco in 2014 in Rotterdam, Netherlands, is equipped with a helicopter pad, an onboard gymnasium, a cinema, a massage room, a sauna and a plunge pool, according to court documents.
On Thursday, DOJ spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman also confirmed that Red Granite Pictures, a production company co-founded by Najib’s stepson, Riza Shahriz Bin Abdul Aziz, agreed to pay the U.S. government $60 million to settle a DOJ lawsuit alleging that its movies were made using diverted funds from 1MDB.
Red Granite Pictures, which produced “Wolf of Wall Street,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and big-budget comedies “Daddy’s Home” and “Dumb and Dumber To,” will pay the amount in three installments over the next 12 months, according to court documents obtained by BenarNews. The settlement agreement was filed with the U.S. district court in California on Tuesday.
“The Justice Department continues to seek to forfeit nearly $1.7 billion in assets that were acquired with public funds that the Department alleges were misappropriated from 1MDB,” Navas Oxman told BenarNews in an emailed statement.
“This settlement does not release any individual or entity from criminal liability,” she said.
Roni Toldanes in Washington contributed to this report.