US calls Malaysia’s 1MDB corruption scandal ‘kleptocracy at its worst’
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US calls Malaysia’s 1MDB corruption scandal ‘kleptocracy at its worst’

THE US Chief Prosecutor has called the graft case involving Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund “kleptocracy at its worst” as almost half of the corruption proceeds seized by the US government since 2004 came from the Southeast Asian nation.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said nearly half of the US$3.5 billion in corruption proceeds the US Department of Justice has restrained is related to only one enforcement action.

During his speech at the Global Forum on Asset Recovery in Washington DC on Monday, Sessions said that action was related to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad sovereign wealth fund.

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In reiterating allegations made by the Department of Justice (DoJ) over the past several years, Sessions said corrupt officials and their associates used the 1MDB funds for “lavish spending spree” which included for real estate in South California and New York, US$130 million in artwork, US$100 million in an American music label and a US$265 million yacht.

“This is kleptocracy at its worst,” said Sessions. “Today, the US Department of Justice is working to provide justice to the victims of this alleged scheme.”

Sessions said 1MDB officials had laundered some US$4.5 billion through a complex web of opaque transactions and shell companies with bank accounts in Switzerland, Singapore, Luxembourg and the US, among other countries.

Speaking on ways the DoJ has cooperated with its counterparts abroad, the Attorney General said the US has returned more than US$255 million in corruption proceeds to compensate victims since 2004.

“That recovery has only been possible because of cooperation with our foreign law enforcement partners,” he said.

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(File) Men walk past a 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) billboard at the fund’s flagship Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur March 1, 2015. Pic: Reuters/Olivia Harris

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In June, the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) launched a third civil suit to recover about US$540 million in assets that authorities say were stolen by financiers associated with 1MDB, which was established by Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2009. 

US investigators have traced nearly US$700 million to bank accounts that were allegedly syphoned from 1MDB into Najib’s personal account. The leader, however, has denied taking money from 1MDB or any other entity for personal gain.

Apart from the DoJ, investigators from at least six other countries, including Singapore, Switzerland, and Australia were looking into the 1MDB case. However, the scandal is not being investigated domestically.