AUTHORITIES in Indonesia on Wednesday seized a luxury yacht sought by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) as part of a multi-billion dollar corruption investigation linked to Malaysian development fund.
The Equanimity – the 58th largest yacht in the world which is worth about US$250 million – was seized in the resort island of Bali, local reports said. The vessel is an asset believed to be bought with money siphoned from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund.
“We have been inspecting the crew since yesterday and now we are taking action since we have received approval from the court to seize the boat,” Agung Setya, director of economic and special crimes at the Indonesia‘s criminal investigation bureau, told Metro TV.
Television footage in Indonesia showed Indonesian officials talking to the crew on board the moored yacht at Benoa Bay. Agung said there were 34 crew on board. He said it was not certain whether the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) would be involved.
“We will see how this develops… Whether we can do a joint investigation later or whether we can hand it over later, we are in the process of collecting and investigating.”
According to Indonesian news site Detik, local police had worked together with the FBI to seize the vessel.
“The corruption case in the US and the FBI’s investigation alleged that some proceeds (from the Malaysian state fund) were used partly to buy the ship that is currently docked in Indonesia,” police spokesperson Wadir Tipideksus Bareskrim said.
A total of US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, according to civil lawsuits filed by the DOJ in the past two years.
The state fund is at the centre of money-laundering probes in at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore. Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak set up 1MDB in 2009 and served as chairman of its advisory board until last year. He 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 $1.7 billion in assets allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB funds because it was conducting a related criminal probe.
The luxury yacht was bought by Malaysian financier Jho Low, named as a key figure in the US lawsuits.
The lawsuits claimed that Low used proceeds diverted from 1MDB to procure Equanimity, which it described as a 300-foot yacht registered in Cayman Islands. Low’s whereabouts are unknown and his Hong Kong company has not responded to requests for comment.
In an emailed statement through his representative in June last year, Low said the DOJ’s action were an example “of global overreach in pursuit of a deeply flawed case”. Other assets allegedly bought by Low with stolen 1MDB funds include a private jet, a hotel and real estate in New York, and a $107 million interest in EMI Music Publishing.
Some assets have been returned. Australian model and actress Miranda Kerr handed over millions of dollars worth of jewellery that US authorities say were given to her by Low, including a jewellery set gifted to her during an excursion aboard Equanimity in 2014.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio also returned to authorities an Oscar once owned by actor Marlon Brando and other items that the US said were funded by 1MDB money.
Additional reporting By Reuters