The United States government said Tuesday it had returned $300 million misappropriated by a fugitive financier from the Malaysian state investment fund 1MDB and laundered in the United States, Switzerland, Singapore and Luxembourg.
Combined with previous appropriations sent back to Malaysia’s government, the U.S. has returned more than $600 million (2.6 billion ringgit) to the Southeast Asian nation, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in a statement. It said efforts to recover more funds stolen from 1Malaysia Development Berhad were ongoing.
“The repatriation of these stolen funds to the citizens of Malaysia is the result of the tireless efforts of prosecutors and federal agents to prevent foreign kleptocrats and their associates from using the United States as a playground where they can enjoy the fruits of their pilfered wealth,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna of the Central District of California.
In 2019, a federal court in that California district entered judgments forfeiting more than $700 million (3.03 billion ringgit) in assets acquired by fugitive financier Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, and his family.
The U.S. has recovered or assisted in the recovery of more than $1 billion (4.3 billion) in assets associated with the 1MDB international money laundering and bribery scheme. This represents the largest recovery to date under the department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative and the largest civil forfeiture ever concluded by the DOJ, it said in its news release.
“This extraordinary sum of money is going back to the people of Malaysia where it belongs and where it can finally be used for its original intended purpose – to better the lives of everyday Malaysians,” said Chief Don Fort of IRS-Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI).
“Mr. Low attempted to launder these assets through multiple international jurisdictions and a web of shell corporations, but his greed finally caught up with him. This case is a model for international cooperation in significant cross-border money laundering investigations.”
Low, who is the subject of a manhunt, faces criminal charges in Malaysia for his role in allegedly embezzling billions of dollars from 1MDB through his relationship with former Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Najib set up 1MDB in 2009 ostensibly to spur economic development, but the fund amassed billions in debts. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice accused “Malaysian Official 1” – later identified as Najib – and associates of embezzling and laundering more than U.S. $4.5 billion (19.5 billion ringgit) in 1MDB-linked money between 2009 and 2014.
Najib, who faces a total of 42 criminal counts, is standing trial in two courts on 32 of the charges linked to abuse of power and laundering money tied to 1MDB and a subsidiary, SRC International. He could face additional trials on the 10 remaining charges.
Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, faces charges in Malaysia related to 1MDB as well.
In March, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said task force officials had briefed him that 1.4 billion ringgit ($323 million) tied to 1MDB had been returned and another 6.9 billion ringgit ($1.6 billion) had been identified.
“The prime minister has instructed that efforts to track and reclaim 1MDB funds from various countries continue,” his office said on March 17.