The Malaysian financier at the heart of the massive 1MDB graft scandal has struck a settlement to forfeit assets worth $700m including a Beverly Hills hotel and a private jet, the US justice department has said.
Jho Low, 37, will relinquish the assets under the largest ever US civil forfeiture, intended to recover cash allegedly stolen in the 1MDB scandal, which helped topple Malaysia’s former regime.
“A staggering amount of money embezzled from 1MDB at the expense of the people of Malaysia was laundered through the purchase of big-ticket assets in the US and other nations,” said the US attorney Nick Hanna.
“Thanks to this settlement, one of the men allegedly at the centre of this massive scheme will lose all access to hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Low, a flamboyant, jet-setting playboy known for partying with Hollywood A-listers, was a former unofficial adviser to 1MDB, a sovereign wealth fund established with the ostensible aim of boosting Malaysia’s economy.
He has been accused of masterminding the looting hundreds of millions of dollars from 1MDB. Low is in hiding, believed by many to be in China. He has previously said that he has not broken any laws.
Billions of dollars were looted from the investment vehicle between 2009 and 2014 and spent on everything from yachts to expensive artwork, in a fraud allegedly involving the disgraced Malaysian ex-prime minister Najib Razak and his cronies.
Najib, 66, is currently on trial in Kuala Lumpur for 1MDB-related charges.
In 2018 the producers of Martin Scorsese’s hit film The Wolf of Wall Street paid back $60m to the US government after allegations the film was funded with money stolen from 1MDB.
Low allegedly used funds “to engage in extravagant spending sprees, acquiring one-of-kind artwork and luxury real estate, gambling freely at casinos, and propping up his lavish lifestyle”, said assistant attorney-general Brian Benczkowski.
“This settlement agreement forces Low and his family to relinquish hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains that were intended to be used for the benefit of the Malaysian people,” he said.
The settlement allows for the release of $15m to Low’s counsel to pay for legal fees and costs. It was filed in California on Wednesday.
Combined with previous settlements covering a $120m superyacht, a New York hotel and other assets, it brings the total amount recovered by the US to more than $1bn.
Low still faces criminal charges in the case.
A statement issued by Low on Wednesday welcomed the “landmark comprehensive, global settlement” but added that the agreement “does not constitute an admission of guilt, liability or any form of wrongdoing by me or the asset owners”.