A fugitive Malaysian financier at the centre of a massive corruption scandal that helped bring down the government of Najib Razak has been charged with eight counts of money-laundering charges, police said.
The move on Friday is seen as a key step to extradite businessman Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, a key player in the alleged plunder of state fund 1MDB.
Reports say Low is currently in mainland China, after allegedly fleeing Macau.
The corruption allegations were a major factor in the defeat of Najib, who set up and oversaw 1MDB, in an election in May.
Amar Singh, head of the police commercial crimes unit, told AFP news agency that the businessman was hit with eight charges in absentia at a court in the administrative capital, Putrajaya.
The charges were under anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism financing legislation. Low’s father was also charged with one count of transferring money to his son.
Warrants were also issued for their arrest.
Reports said the moves will pave the way for authorities to seek the men’s extradition, as the pair must be present in court for a trial to proceed.
A spokesman for Low said he maintained his innocence.
“It is abundantly clear that it would be impossible for Mr Low to get a fair trial in Malaysia, where the government has proven time and time again that they have no interest in the rule of law,” the spokesman said, in a statement via the financier’s lawyers.
Luxury yacht, private jet
Najib and his cronies were accused of plundering billions of dollars from 1MDB, and new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has reopened investigations into the controversy.
The US Justice Department, which is seeking to recover assets allegedly bought with looted money, alleges that $4.5bn was stolen.
Low, who held no official role at 1MDB but was believed to exert great influence over the fund, was allegedly responsible for many big-ticket purchases.
These include a $250m luxury yacht that was returned to Malaysia earlier this month after being seized in Indonesia.
On Friday, a Malaysian court agreed to a request by the government to sell the 90-metre Equanimity, which boasts a swimming pool, a helipad and a cinema.
The court will decide later who receives the proceeds from the sale.
Meanwhile, a private plane worth $35m, believed to be owned by Low and a subject of the ongoing 1MDB investigation, has been grounded for months at an airport in Singapore.
Last week, Singapore said that an official request has not yet been filed by Malaysia to recover the Bombardier Global 5000 jet.
Since his election defeat, Najib has been arrested and charged over the scandal. He denies any wrongdoing.