Jho Low insists innocent of U.S. criminal charges over 1MDB

AFP pic

AFP pic

Low is seeking immunity in exchange for assistance in finding assets linked to the scandal-ridden fund, Daim said in the report published Wednesday, adding that the government hasn't been swayed.

Two former Goldman Sachs investment bankers were charged Thursday with helping to raise money for a Malaysian investment fund that has lost $4 billion, according to federal prosecutors.

While that money was supposed to be used for three development projects, court documents allege the men and their fellow conspirators used the laundered money to pay bribes and "for the personal benefit of the co-conspirators and their relatives and associates, including, among other things, for the purchase of luxury residential real estate in the United States and artwork from an auction house in New York, New York, and the funding of major Hollywood films". In 2012, he threw a lavish 31st birthday bash attended by Leonardo DiCaprio, Kim Kardashian and other celebrities that The Wall Street Journal called the "wildest party (Las) Vegas ever saw". He will forfeit $43.7 million as a "result of his crimes", officials said.

James Haggerty, a spokesman for Low, said in an e-mailed statement that Low "maintains his innocence".

While U.S. prosecutors have previously filed civil asset forfeiture suits for assets allegedly bought with some of the stolen funds, these are the first criminal charges the Justice Department has brought against individuals in the case under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a federal law targeting official bribery overseas.

Set up in 2009 by then-Prime Minister Najib Razak to promote foreign investment in Malaysia, the 1MDB fund drew attention when quickly amassed an estimated $11 billion in debt.

A friend of Najib's stepson Riza Aziz, Low had no official role at 1MDB but had considerable influence over its dealings and was often in contact with Najib, according to the Justice Department, U.S. authorities have said.

It is a stark charge against the former Goldman employees, who until now have faced no charges of wrongdoing in the years-long money laundering and embezzlement saga involving the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund, or 1MDB.

Low acted as an intermediary for 1MDB but the ex-Goldman bankers concealed his involvement in the bond offerings, and repeatedly circumvented the bank's oversight tools for countering fraud, according to the charges.

Former leader Mahathir Mohammad, outraged over the scandal, came out of retirement and the opposition united behind him in the national elections, leading to Najib's ouster in May.

Najib in 2015 sacked his attorney general and a deputy prime minister for demanding answers about 1MDB.

In June, anti-corruption investigators questioned Najib's wife about alleged theft and money-laundering.

Najib has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and has consistently denied wrongdoing.

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