Jho Low's family digs in heels to stop US 1MDB asset seizure

  • Business
  • Wednesday, 07 Dec 2016

The family of Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho (pic) is reaching far and wide to stop the United States from seizing US$650mil (RM2.87bill) in real estate and business investments the government claims were acquired with funds stolen from his home country.

The family of the businessman known as Jho Low claims the Swiss trustees holding their assets are afraid to fight back against the U.S. for fear of being prosecuted in the global game of investment hide and seek set off by the alleged disappearance of more than US$3.5bil (RM15bil) of the US$8bil (RM35bil) raised by 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Four relatives of Low, including his father and brother, now say they will ask courts in the Cayman Islands and New Zealand to replace the Swiss trustees – so they can avoid having their possessions go to the U.S. by default.

The Justice Department is targeting real estate, investments and art works that were allegedly bought with money siphoned off from the state-owned investment and development fund known as 1MDB.

The Low assets at issue include a US$380mil (RM1.6bil) stake in New York's Park Lane Hotel, a US$107mil (RM474mil) interest in EMI Music Publishing, a US$35mil (RM155mil) Bombardier Jet, and a US$30mil (RM133mil) penthouse at Time Warner Center in New York. The trusts that hold the assets call for application of either New Zealand or Cayman Island law, according to the family's filing on Monday.

Low, who is known for partying with Hollywood celebrities Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, is also friends with Riza Aziz, a stepson of Malaysia's prime minister and a producer of The Wolf of Wall Street, which the U.S. alleges was also funded with stolen money. Low has said he provided consulting to 1MDB that didn't break any laws, while the fund and Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seti Najib Tun Razak have both denied wrongdoing.

The U.S. will oppose the Low family's request to delay a Dec 12 hearing over whether they can intervene in the forfeiture case, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for US Attorney Eileen Decker in Los Angeles.

Among the other assets the Justice Department says were acquired with stolen 1MDB funds are a US$51 (RM255mil) million New York penthouse condominium and a US$31 (RM137mil) Beverly Hills mansion bought in 2014 by Khadem al Qubaisi, the former managing director of Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Co. Al Qubaisi, who's also the former chairman of restaurant and nightclub operator Hakkasan Group, received US$473mil (RM2.09bil) siphoned from 1MDB in 2012, according to the US Justice Department.

Hakkasan Chief Executive Officer Neil Moffitt is fighting the US claim that a US$15mil (RM66.43mil) chunk of Beverly Hills real estate he owns was also bought by al Qubaisi with misappropriated Malaysian funds.

"Mr Moffitt had no involvement in the property at issue in the federal case other than as owner," his lawyer, Ronald Richards, said. "I expect the forfeiture complaint to be dismissed as the government was unaware of his purchase at the time they filed the forfeiture complaint. He has never been a target or subject of any federal investigation or civil forfeiture action at any time." – Bloomberg

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