US agrees $1bn 1MDB recovery deal with Malaysian fugitive Jho Low

The settlement is the largest civil forfeiture of assets ever by the US Justice Department.

    Anger against Jho Low and former Prime Minister Najib Razak over their alleged role in siphoning billions of dollars from state investment fund 1MDB contributed to the defeat of Najib's party in last year's elections [File: Sadiq Asyraf/AP]
    Anger against Jho Low and former Prime Minister Najib Razak over their alleged role in siphoning billions of dollars from state investment fund 1MDB contributed to the defeat of Najib's party in last year's elections [File: Sadiq Asyraf/AP]

    The United States Justice Department on Wednesday reached a settlement deal with Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho to recover almost $1bn in funds the fugitive and his family had misappropriated from Malaysian investment fund 1MDB.

    High-level officials of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and associates including Low, better known as Jho Low, had siphoned more than $4.5bn belonging to the state-owned wealth fund from 2009 to 2015, the Justice Department said.

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

    Low faced charges in the US and Malaysia over his central role in the scandal at 1MDB, which was founded by former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

    Low agreed to give up high-end real estate in Beverly Hills, New York and London and other business investments totalling $700m, the Justice Department said in a statement and court document filed on Wednesday. The settlement also included assets in the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

    That's on top of a $120m yacht and $140m 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 separate criminal actions 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 an emailed statement.

    Goldman said earlier this month it was cooperating with the Justice Department and other government and regulatory investigations.

    "The firm is also engaged in discussions with certain government and regulatory authorities with respect to potential resolution of their investigations," the bank said in a US Securities and Exchange Commission filing on October 15.

    Last year, Malaysia filed criminal charges against Goldman over its role as underwriter and arranger of three bond sales that raised $6.5bn for 1MDB. Prosecutors in August filed criminal charges against 17 current and former directors at Goldman units.

    The proposed settlement was filed in a California court on Wednesday and needs to be approved by a judge. 

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    SOURCE: Reuters news agency