INDONESIAN authorities on Wednesday sent shockwaves across Southeast Asia when it mounted a late afternoon raid to seize a US$250 million luxury yacht in Bali, as US authorities probe a multi-billion dollar scandal involving a Malaysian development fund.
In the hours that followed initial reports of the operation, it was uncertain whether Indonesia’s US counterparts had any direct involvement with the raid.
However, National Police Spokesman Muhammad Iqbal Abduh later clarified that police seized the yacht, Equanimity, after receiving a letter on Feb 21 from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) requesting help to enforce a court order.
The seizure included the arrests of some 29 crew members who are now being questioned in the case related to alleged money laundering by officials linked to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund. The scandal has implicated Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and several other well-connected individuals, including Malaysian financier Jho Low.
Low, who has been named as a key figure in the US lawsuits and cited as the owner of the vessel, has criticised the US Department of Justice (DoJ) for “not proving that any impropriety had occurred”, accusing its officials of a “global overreach”.
Responding to an enquiry by Asian Correspondent, the DOJ – which filed its first lawsuit in July 2016 to seize US$3.5 billion in assets allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB money – declined to comment “beyond the complaint in this pending matter.”
However, DOJ spokesman Nicole Navas Oxman disclosed several documents that led to the confiscation of the Equanimity, comprising the “complaint against the yacht”, and the “arrest warrant in rem” for its seizure, which was issued by US District Court Judge Dale Fisher in Los Angeles for the Central District of California.
Politicians from Malaysia’s ruling coalition have been rallying behind Najib and Low to reject the DOJ accusations outright as “baseless” and “politically motivated”, with some denying the existence of the assets involved.
The documents provided to Asian Correspondent, however, reveal in detail almost all the expensive items currently being sought by the department and specific instructions for the FBI to seize them.
Letter of complaint
Filed on June 15 last year, the letter of complaint sought the seizure of a long list of valuable assets. The DOJ named Low and Cayman Island-based companies FFP Ltd. and Equanimity Holdings Ltd. as “the persons and entities whose interests may be affected by this action.”
“Contemporaneously with the filing of this complaint, (the) plaintiff (DOJ) is filing related actions seeking the civil forfeiture of the following assets.”
The listed assets, which included an international hotel group, ownership rights to several Hollywood blockbuster movies, penthouses, exquisite paintings by Picasso and Basquiat, and jewelry worth millions, among others, can be seen in the following slideshow:DN 1, 6-15-17, Complaint_Equanimity
Warrant of arrest ‘in rem’
According to the Maritime Law Center, lawsuits in which US authorities seize vessels are known as “in rem” actions, meaning that the action is again a “thing” rather than a person.
“The Court is satisfied that, based upon the allegations of the Verified Complaint, there is probable cause to believe that the Defendant Asset is subject to forfeiture to the United States,” the warrant to seize the Equanimity issued on June 16, 2017, read.
The warrant commanded relevant authorities to arrest and seize the “Defendant Asset”.
“Special Agents of the FBI and/or Deputies of the United States Marshals Service (“USMS”), together with any personnel deemed necessary, shall execute this warrant of arrest in rem as soon as practicable,” the document signed by Fisher read.
The full warrant of arrest can be seen here:DN 13, 6-16-17, Warrant for Arrest in Rem
Najib set up 1MDB in 2009, serving as chairman of its advisory board. Despite the allegations of corruption levelled against Najib, the leader, and the fund have denied any wrongdoing.
In August 2017, the DOJ asked for a stay on its civil lawsuits seeking to seize more than US$1.7 billion in assets allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB funds because it was conducting a related criminal probe.
The lawsuits said Low used proceeds diverted from 1MDB to buy Equanimity, which it described as a 300-foot (91m) yacht registered in the Cayman Islands.
Agung Setya, the head of the National Police special crimes investigation unit said Indonesian authorities were not looking for Low.
“We have an obligation to search for all on the wanted list or (anyone) included on an Interpol red notice. But I have not seen the name,” he said.
Low’s whereabouts are unknown, and his Hong Kong company has not responded to requests for comment.
Additional reporting by Reuters