AFTER gaining custody of a US$250 million superyacht, the Malaysian government is looking to claim a private jet that is also purportedly owned by a financier at the centre of the country’s state fund scandal.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the government is making arrangements with Singaporean authorities to repatriate a US$35 million Bombardier Global 5000 said to be owned by fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, the New Straits Times reported.
The prime minister said this in a press conference where reporters asked whether he believed the plane was bought with money allegedly stolen from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund.
“Yes… I think so. (So) we have to bring it back,” Dr Mahathir told reporters after attending an exhibition held to celebrate his legacy at a university near Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital.
Last year, Singaporean authorities seized the private jet which is believed to be part of an estimated US$1 billion in assets bought using 1MDB funds.
1MDB, set up by Dr Mahathir’s predecessor Najib Razak in 2009, is at the centre of money-laundering probes in at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.
Najib, who fresh from losing the election in May, has claimed trial to a slew of graft charges related to 1MDB. He has denied any wrongdoing on the case.
The US Department of Justice has listed a total of US$4.5 billion that was allegedly misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials of the fund and their associates.
In August last year, the DOJ sought to seize more than US$1.7 billion in assets allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB funds after opening a criminal case on the matter.
“We are trying to get back all the money that has been stolen from us. We know who has it but we don’t know where they are,” Dr Mahathir said, as quoted by The Star.
“And the need for us to access the money depends on us proving that it is our money.”
The Cayman-island flagged superyacht named the Equanimity arrived at a Malaysian port in Pulau Indah early last week after it was handed over by Indonesian authorities who seized the vessel earlier this year.
After visiting the extravagant yacht on Saturday, Dr Mahathir said the vessel will be sold to the highest bidder to recover the stolen 1MDB money.
“It’s super luxurious. I have been on yachts before but nothing like this. Everything is superb, and bought with stolen money, by crooks. We’ll get the crooks,” Dr Mahathir said.
In a statement issued by a spokesperson, Low later accused the prime minister of “hijacking” legal proceedings of countries like the US which has been in a custody battle over the vessel with the Indonesian authorities.
According to MalaysiaKini, Low’s spokesperson said Dr Mahathir was “putting words into the mouth of the DOJ” in relation to its agreement to grant Malaysia custody to the asset.
“These repeated misstatements by Malaysia are embarrassing the US, which has stressed it has no involvement in the illegal seizure of the vessel and will update the US court on Aug 17.”
Low’s spokesperson also claimed the US’ bid to seize the ship was unlawful.
“The US hasn’t proven anything. The truth is this: the US filed unproven allegations in a civil forfeiture complaint more than a year ago – then halted the proceedings before any party had any meaningful chance to respond,” Low’s spokesperson said.