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July 22, 2016

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Singapore probe adds pressure

SINGAPORE said yesterday that it had seized nearly US$180 million linked to scandal-tainted Malaysian state fund 1MDB, raising the pressure a day after the US moved to seize more than US$1 billion in assets over “enormous” fraud.

The back-to-back announcements were the clearest signs yet of a tightening noose on 1MDB, which was founded and overseen by embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak and has caused more than a year of tumult in Malaysia.

The US Justice Department filed lawsuits on Wednesday to seize assets including luxury real estate in Beverly Hills, New York and London, artworks by Monet and Van Gogh, and a Bombardier executive jet, saying they were purchased with money stolen from 1MDB.

The US filing accuses an individual it calls “Malaysian Official 1” — an apparent thinly veiled reference to Najib — of taking huge sums, along with Najib’s stepson, a close family associate and other figures.

“The Department of Justice will not allow the American financial system to be used as a conduit for corruption,” US Attorney General Loretta Lynch emphasized in announcing the move.

Singapore’s government followed up by revealing it had seized S$240 million (US$177 million) worth of bank funds and other assets over suspected fraud and money-laundering related to 1MDB since launching its own investigations last year.

It marked the first time authorities in the city-state revealed details of its investigations.

They said half of the frozen Singapore assets were linked to Low Taek Jho, a Malaysian businessman close to Najib’s family. The US filing also accused Low of illegally shifting hundreds of millions of dollars into the US for corrupt activities benefiting Najib’s family.


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