Among all the questions triggered by the announcement last week that the US government had seized US$1 billion from assets stolen from 1Malaysia Development Bhd since 2009, the biggest one is perhaps this: How on earth did they think they could get away with it?
That cool billion announced by US Attorney General Loretta Lynch was only a small part of the total. Billions are gone, and gone so utterly flamboyantly. Usually stealing money is done in the dark, as quietly as possible.
Did the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, and his merry band, especially Jho Taek Low, the Penang-born wunderkind, simply believe nobody would notice as the billions would disappear irretrievably into real estate in New York and California, into a US$35 million executive jet, into Las Vegas gambling debts, into paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and Claud Monet, into a billion or so into Najib’s personal account, into a vast outlay of personal jewelry adorning Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor?
Nobody would remember that shopping trip aboard a private jet by Rosmah to Dubai that was disguised as a trip to collect an award in Turkey? The shopping trips to Monaco and Milan and New York and Paris? The stunningly garish wedding on the island of Langkawi last year for Najib’s daughter? It has been called one of the most lavish in history.
Both Najib and 1MDB have defended themselves vehemently, blaming dark forces for their troubles – most recently, after the US government announcement, unspecified “political enemies.” Perhaps the dark force was President Obama, with whom Najib previously played golf, but almost certainly will never do again. Perhaps it was the Chinese Malaysians, out to keep ethnic Malays in penury forever. Perhaps it was hantus – ghosts – or bomohs, witch doctors hired by former Prime Minister Mahathir, who is sticking to his vow to put Najib in jail. Or when in extremis, blame the Jews.
Instead, he is said to have sent his UMNO bulldog and tame shyster Mohamad Shafee Abdullah, to Washington to present probably justified evidence of the crookedry of Mahathir’s sons, along with five members of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, praised by the US Justice Department for its courage in pursuing Najib until one of its prosecutors was murdered and the attorney general was forced out and its report was squashed.
Najib could have stolen, say, US$150 million, as he did a couple of times as defense minister, particularly US$180-million odd in bribes on the purchase of Scorpion submarines. Or skimming off millions on the purchase of patrol boats and Sukhoi jets. That seemed okay. Those purchases were questioned in the parliament and he got away with them. But US$681 million in his own pocket in one go and another few score millions later? US$3.5 billion, according to the US attorney general? US$4 billion in laundered funds, the Swiss say?
It is a question we have asked earlier. Did they think nobody would notice the magnums of Cristal champagne that Jho Low, who convinced Najib to establish 1MDB back in 2009, was pouring into an A-list of Broadway blondes in New York? That nobody saw the pictures in the New York Post of Jho Low opening the magnums amid sparklers and women in snakeskin dresses? For months, even years, Jho Low has made himself ludicrous as a kind of Stage Door Johnny in New York.
Nobody noticed that he was using letters of guarantee on 1MDB to attempt to buy three of London’s grandest hotels? That hundreds of millions were going into a 300-foot yacht named Equanimity owned by Jho Low?
What other country or individuals would steer millions of state-owned sovereign money into the making of the Wolf of Wall Street, produced by Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz, Rosmah’s issue by a previous marriage?
Financiers in Abu Dhabi noticed, along with the gumshoes of at least six other governments who are involved in the grim chase for the money and the perps. 1MDB is believed to face debt obligations of more than US$6.481 billion to units of the Gulf emirate including US$1.75 billion on bonds guaranteed by International Petroleum Investment Corporation (IPIC) of Abu Dhabi.
At least US$3.5 billion of the missing funds were in payments by 1MDB to what somebody thought was Aabar Investments PJS in Abu Dhabi. Instead, the money went to Aabar BVI, an evil twin established in the British Virgin Islands. The money apparently has disappeared. Nobody noticed?
An official from the FBI, during last week’s press conference, mused that the case followed the plot of the Wolf of Wall Street, a black comedy in which the protagonist, riding a wave of too-easy money, slid into a spectacular life of decadence that led to his ruin. To the adage that the movies should be more like life, in this case, life is more like the movies. And of course Riza Aziz, Rosmah’s son, is a co-producer. Life and the movies tie neatly together. Jho Low, all smiles, attended the prize festivities.
Still, in the wake of all these astounding hijinks, it’s said by the prime minister to be somebody else’s fault. A plot to dispossess the Malays of their future – something that UMNO has not been doing for the past several decades, including under Mahathir, apparently. But who knew?
The Singaporeans, the Swiss, the French, Luxembourg, the United Arab Republic, Hong Kong and Australia, among other nations have all joined the plot. It is the world against Najib, merrymaker, only out for a good time and to make sure Rosmah has enough jewelry.