A Malaysian Kleptocrat’s Vast Depredations

The sheer amount of money the thieves involved in 1Malaysia Development Bhd. managed to steal and spend in the United States in the brief five years of the state-backed investment company’s active existence is simply astonishing, according to documents filed last week by the US Justice Department’s Asset Forfeiture Section in Los Angeles.

The documents have been written about, but the allegations of theft bear repeating – and admiring, in a perverse way. They show that almost immediately after the company got underway, the looting started, on a planet-wide basis, for sophisticated baubles.

The thieves – alleged thieves – were after quality and they have shown pretty good taste in their thievery. As much as US$4.5 billion is said to have gone missing from 1MDB, a good deal of it in the form of jewels now adorning the portly torso of Rosmah Mansor, the wife of Prime Minister Najib Razak. Najib in previous filings by the US Justice Department has become famous, or infamous, as “Malaysian Official 1.”

The revelations from the US government have done nothing to change the political equation in Malaysia, where Najib continues to reign as prime minister and appears to be impossible to dislodge. His attorney general, Mohamed Apandi Ali, has indignantly criticized the US Justice Department for not consulting him or his office and he has repeatedly cleared the prime minister of all misdoings although the matter in the US has been called the biggest kleptocracy case ever handled by the department.

The current pleading identifies as suspects people who have long been in the news as complicit in the theft – Malaysian Official 1 – who in November was invited by the White House by President Donald Trump in a friendly, middle-of-the-night telephone conversation initiated by a wealthy Malaysian friend of the prime minister, who loaned the presidential candidate a couple of his airplanes. Trump later fired all of the 93 attorneys general in the US, raising questions over whether the prosecution of Malaysian Official 1 will ever go forward. However, civil servants in the Justice Department have continued to pursue the case, as the current documents show.

The current documents clearly identify the US$682 million that mysteriously appeared in Najib’s personal accounts in 2013 as having come from 1MDB, not mysterious Saudi benefactors, as Najib has claimed.

Others are Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz, Rosmah’s son by a previous marriage; Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, the flamboyant Malaysian Chinese financier who convinced Najib to take over an obscure Terengganu fund and turn it into 1MDB; and several top 1MDB officials.

The suspects allegedly “conspired to divert billions of dollars through various means, including by defrauding foreign banks and by sending foreign wire communications in furtherance of the scheme, and thereafter, to launder the proceeds of that criminal conduct, including in and through US financial institutions.“

The funds diverted were “used for the personal benefit of the co-conspirators and their relatives and associates, including to purchase luxury real estate in the United States and overseas, pay gambling expenses at Las Vegas casinos, acquire more than US$200 million worth of artwork, purchase lavish gifts for family members and associates, invest in a major New York real estate development proje3ctr, and fund the production of major Hollywood films.”

As has been widely reported, Jho Low and his merry band did little to conceal any of this in his forays along Broadway, gargling champagne with movie stars and persons famous for being famous. Now the music has stopped. The US government is seeking forfeiture of the following assets:

  • The Equanimity, Jho Low’s 300-foot motor yacht, worth US$250 million, which was last seen near the Myanmar island of Zadetkyi, close to the Thai border.

  • A Bombardier Global 500 private jet, worth US$35 million purchased by Jho Low

  • A US$5 million Vincent Van Goh painting

  • Two Monets, Saint-Georges Majeur (US$35 million) and Nympheas (US$58 million)

  • Two Picassos, “Tete de femme, (US$40 million) and “Nature Morte au Crane de Taureau” (US$3 million), which Jho Low gave to actor Leonardo diCaprio.

  • Framed 3-sheet color lithograph poster created by the German artist Heinz Schulz-Neudamm for the 1927 silent film “Metropolis.”

  • Collage by Jean-Michel Basquiat titled “Redman One”

  • Photograph titled “Boy with the Toy Hand Grenade” by Diane Arbus

  • Condominium at One Madison Park in New York, owned through a nominee company known as Cricklewood One Madison Park LLc

  • Common stocks in FW Sports Investments LLC.

And presumably for Rosmah:

  • 72-carat heart-shaped diamond

  • 88-carat fancy intense pink diamond pendant surrounded by 11-carat fancy intense pink diamonds.

  • 18-carat white gold diamond matching jewelry set, including diamond necklace, diamond earring, diamond bracelet, and diamond ring.

  • Pair of 18K white gold diamond earrings consisting a 5.55-carat diamond 5.49-carat diamond

  • Pair of diamond earrings and matching diamond ring, consisting a 7.53-carat flawless type 2A diamond, a 3.05-carat flawless type 2A diamond and a 3.08-carat flawless type 2A diamond

The government has already sought the assets generated by the blockbuster “Wolf of Wall Street” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which was produced by Red Granite Pictures, financed by Reza Aziz and Jho Low with 1MDB money. DiCaprio has already handed back a Picasso and Marlon Brando’s Oscar for the 1954 movie “On The Waterfront, which were presented to him as gifts by Jho Low.

Other assets already being sought include:

  • The luxury hotel Viceroy L’Ermitage Beverly Hills plus all rents and profits

  • Real Property in Beverly Hills, known as the Hillcrest Property and said to be worth U$100 million

  • A US$33.5 million penthouse atop the Upper West Side’s Park Laurel condominium

  • A US$30.5 million Time Warner penthouse

  • A US$39 million home on Oriole Drive in the Hollywood Hills, owned by Jho Low that is said to have kicked off LA’s torrid ultra-luxury property market

  • A US$13.8 million apartment at 118 Greene Street in New York, purchased by Jho Low in 2014

  • A share of the US$2.2 million in assets in EMIU Music Group purchased in 2012 by Sony in which Low’s Jynwei Capital participated

  • €25.21 million in euros held in an escrpw account at UBS, in Switzerland as proceeds for the Monte painting “Nympheas”

  • A US$98 million penthouse, office building and flat on Stratton Street in London, across from the Ritz Hotel in the fashionable Mayfair District, with a view of Buckingham Palace

  • The rights and profit from the movie “Dumb and Dumber To” produced by Red Granite “as well as the right to collect and receive any profits, royalties, and proceeds of distribution owned by or owed to Red Granite Pictures or its affiliate.

  • The rights and profit to “Daddy’s Home” which was also produced by Red Granite Pictures

  • 5 million shares of preferred stock ij Palantir Technologies held by Tarek Obaid, the CEO and co-founder of PetroSaudi, a shell company into which much of the fraud was directed.

  • Electrum Assets, including (i) Global Holdings, L.P. (“Electrum Global”); (ii) TEG Global GP Ltd.; and (iii) TEG Services Holding Inc. (“Electrum Services”) (collectively “Electrum”), owned, held or acquired, directly or indirectly, by JW Aurum (Cayman) Gp Ltd.