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Malaysia to ask US for recouped $1.36 billion

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Assets recovered from fugitive financier bought with Malaysian money: Dr M

JOHOR BARU: Malaysia will ask the US to hand over the US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion) in assets it has recovered from fugitive financier Jho Low, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday.

The United States Justice Department on Wednesday struck a deal to recoup funds allegedly looted from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) by the financier, in a record capture for a US anti-corruption probe.

"The assets were bought with Malaysian money. We have proof that this is Malaysia's money. We will now make a claim to the American government," Dr Mahathir said.

US authorities say about US$4.5 billion was siphoned from 1MDB, founded in 2009 by then Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Since 2016, the Justice Department, in the biggest ever case in its anti-kleptocracy programme, has filed civil lawsuits seeking to seize about US$1.7 billion in assets allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB funds.

Low, who called Wednesday's agreement "historic" in a statement issued on his behalf, faces charges in both the US and Malaysia over his central role in the scandal.

Low agreed to give up a private jet, high-end real estate in Beverly Hills, New York and London, and other assets totalling US$700 million, the Justice Department said in a statement and court document filed on Wednesday.

That is on top of a US$126-million yacht and US$140 million in other assets previously forfeited.

If approved, the settlement will mark the largest civil forfeiture ever concluded by the Justice Department, it said.

"The message in this case is simple: the United States is not a safe haven for pilfered funds," said US attorney Nicola T. Hanna of the Central District of California.

The deal does not include an admission of guilt or wrongdoing and is not tied to the criminal action against Low.

"I am very pleased to confirm that a landmark comprehensive, global settlement has been reached with the United States government," Low said in a statement.

In May, the US began returning US$200 million to Malaysia, following the sale of 1MDB-linked assets.

1MDB is the subject of corruption and money laundering investigations in at least six countries. Malaysian police last year filed charges and issued arrest warrants for Low and several of his associates, whose whereabouts are unknown.

Low has consistently denied wrongdoing.

Asked about any negotiations with other parties, a spokesman for his lawyers reiterated their previous stand on the issue: "If and when Mr Low is confident that he will be safe and treated fairly, he looks forward to addressing any remaining issues."

Low has, however, said he does not expect to get a fair deal in Malaysia as long as Dr Mahathir is in power.

Officials in Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates, Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs Group and Deutsche Bank have all been caught up in probes into the multi-year conspiracy.

Malaysia has filed criminal charges against Goldman and 17 current and former directors of the bank's units for allegedly misleading investors over bond sales totalling US$6.5 billion that the bank helped raise for 1MDB.

A Malaysian court today fixed Dec 16 to hear a request by prosecutors to move a criminal case against three Goldman units to a higher court. - REUTERS