PETALING JAYA: A boutique hotel, with 116 rooms, a rooftop pool and jet-setting clientele, owned by fugitive Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho who is involved in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, is up for sale for over US$100mil (RM427mil), reports the New York Times.
According to the report on Friday (July 3), the previous owner spent US$40mil (RM170mil) on renovations before becoming an international fugitive. The asking price for the hotel is over US$100mil (RM427mil).
"If that sounds like a steal — even in the middle of a global pandemic that has nearly ground travel to a halt — the Viceroy L'Ermitage Beverly Hills could be yours. Just contact the US government," said the report.
Prosecutors moved to seize the hotel, about a mile from Rodeo Drive, in 2016 as part of a long-running investigation into one of the biggest foreign bribery and kleptocracy cases in history: the looting of more than US$2.5bil (RM10.68bil) from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB.
The property was commandeered from Low, or better known as Jho Low, a financier turned fugitive whom authorities in the US and Malaysia described as the architect of a brazen scheme that also ensnared a prime minister and one of Wall Street's most powerful banks, Goldman Sachs.
The stolen money was used to buy everything from paintings by Van Gogh and Monet to a custom-built yacht to a see-through grand piano. Some of the cash helped finance "The Wolf of Wall Street," which earned Leonardo DiCaprio a Golden Globe for his performance as the stock-market scammer Jordan Belfort.
Now the hotel, the last of Jho Low's marquee properties to be sold by federal authorities, is being auctioned off, with proceeds to be split between the governments of Malaysia and the US.
Viceroy, which operates the hotel, charges about US$600 (RM2,562) a night on average for rooms it markets as a "home-away-from-home for Hollywood elite, international dignitaries and jet-setting luxury travellers."
Federal authorities in Los Angeles and Washington are hoping to sell it for north of US$100mil in an auction this summer, according to people briefed on the matter.
"Luxury hotels in Beverly Hills don't often come up for sale," said Michael M. Eidelman, a Chicago bankruptcy lawyer hired as the special master for the auction.
"We have received inquiries from a number of different groups, and groups from a number of different countries," the report quoted him as saying.
But how aggressive the bidding will be remains an open question, with the future of the tourism industry very much in doubt.
The report said a resurgence of coronavirus infections is putting off or reversing reopening plans throughout the country, just as hotels were getting a chance to claw out of the hole opened up by lockdown orders.
Low, who has never appeared in federal court to respond to fraud charges, has maintained that he did nothing wrong, according to his lawyers and representatives.
Low acquired the Viceroy L'Ermitage for about US$40mil (RM170mil) in 2010, and later spent the same amount on renovations, said the report.
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