By Hadi Azmi
Malaysian investigators have asked Macau to assist in efforts to apprehend fugitive financier Low Taek Jho (better known as Jho Low), who is wanted for his alleged involvement in the 1MDB financial scandal, Malaysia’s police chief said Tuesday.
His department made the request after Jho Low allegedly left Hong Kong last week as Malaysian officers were traveling there to apprehend him, Inspector General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur.
“Immediately after learning that he has fled, we wrote to Macau but so far we have yet to get any response,” Fuzi said. “We have sent requests for information in our effort to arrest Jho Low to seven countries, including China, through the Interpol red notice.”
The only response came from Hong Kong authorities who confirmed that the alleged mastermind behind the scandal around the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund was indeed there.
“Unfortunately when we arrived, we were told that he has fled by ferry to Macau,” Fuzi said.
In related developments on Tuesday, the Swiss and Malaysian attorneys general met to discuss 1MDB and attorneys for former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s wife discussed their efforts to get back her personal items seized by Malaysian investigators last month.
Switzerland’s top prosecutor revealed that Najib was not among people being investigated by Swiss authorities in connection with the 1MDB case, which is the focus of multiple money-laundering and embezzlement investigations across the globe. Last week, Najib was arrested and charged in Malaysia in connection with the scandal.
Regarding Malaysia’s search for Jho Low, a law firm representing the fugitive financier said last month that he would assist the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in its investigation of 1MDB after it ordered him to present himself for questioning.
MACC Chief Shukri Abdull rejected Jho Low’s demand to have his statement recorded by investigators in Dubai, saying he was a Malaysian citizen and should return to prove his innocence.
U.S. Justice Department officials have described the 1MDB case as “the worst kleptocracy scandal in recent times,” and accused Jho Low of laundering more than $400 million stolen from 1MDB through acquisitions of properties in California, New York and London. Among the acquisitions were a jet purchased for $35 million and a mega-yacht estimated to be worth $250 million.
The massive scale of the transnational scandal saw investigations being opened in Switzerland, Hong Kong, United States, Singapore, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and Australia.
Visit by Swiss attorney general
Earlier on Tuesday, Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber and a delegation from his office met with his Malaysian counterpart Tommy Thomas to discuss cooperation particularly on the 1MDB case.
In a statement regarding the visit, the Swiss official revealed that Najib was not one of six people under investigation in his country. In addition, two banks are suspected of involvement in cases ranging from suspicion of bribery of foreign public officials, misconduct in public office, money laundering, committing fraud, forgery of documents and criminal mismanagement.
The Wall Street Journal reported that about $7 billion in funds from 1MDB flowed through international financial systems between 2009, when it was founded by Najib, and 2015. Swiss authorities are investigating to determine how much of the money that went through the Swiss financial system may have been misappropriated.
Najib was charged in Kuala Lumpur on July 4 with three counts of criminal breach of trust and one count of abuse of power for his alleged part in a scandal involving a former 1MDB subsidiary, SRC International. He allegedly used his position to solicit a bribe of 42 million ringgit (U.S. $10.6 million) to influence the decision of Malaysian government to guarantee loans totaling 4 billion ringgit ($1.01 billion) to SRC International.
He could face up to 80 years in prison if convicted of all four charges.
Since being voted out of office in May, Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, have been questioned the anti-corruption commission over 1MDB. During a search of residences and other properties linked to them, investigators seized 117 million ringgit ($29 million) in cash along with jewelry and other luxury items bringing the total value of cash and items to 900 million ($225 million) to 1.1 billion ($273 million) ringgit.
On June 26, Beirut-based Global Royalty Trading SAL filed a lawsuit against Rosmah at the Kuala Lumpur High Court seeking the return of 44 pieces of jewelry loaned to the former first lady on Feb. 10, Malaysian media reported. The jewels included diamond necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings and a tiara valued at 59.8 million ringgit ($14.9 million).
Asked about media reports on the lawsuit, Fuzi said Najib and Rosmah had not filed a formal request for the return of jewelry or any other items seized during the search of their properties.
Rosmah’s attorneys, K. Kumaraendran and Geethan Ram, responded to Fuzi’s comment, raising concerns about the searches and pointing out that their client was not present for any of them.
“On behalf of our client, we have also written to the Royal Malaysia Police seeking for the search list which was not presented to our client directly by the officer in charge, and are yet to be provided,” the attorneys said.
They also said they had made a request to inspect and identify items belonging to Rosmah, so she could file a claim for their return, but it was denied.
“We hope that the police will accord fairness to our client, and observe all due processes diligently,” the statement said.
Najib and Rosmah have consistently maintained their innocence related to 1MDB.