Malaysian financier bought works by American artist Basquiat and classic painting by Claude Monet, allegedly paying for them with money siphoned from 1MDB, says US DoJ.
PETALING JAYA: Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho’s expensive taste for art has come under scrutiny by the United States Department of Justice’s (DoJ) investigations into misappropriation of funds from 1MDB.
The Penang-born Low (better known as Jho Low) had paid a record price of US$48.8 million (RM197 million) for a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat at Christie’s New York in May 2013, artnet, a specialist art website, reported yesterday.
The money for the purchase is understood to be from the US$3.5 billion siphoned off from the Malaysian state investment firm, the DoJ said.
The DoJ, at its press conference yesterday, said: “Approximately US$137 million of the pilfered money was spent to purchase works of art, including a US$35 million work by Claude Monet, and it was not for the benefit of the population (of Malaysia) but obtained to further enhance the luxury and lavish lifestyles of those stealing money from 1MDB.”
The paintings purchased by Jho Low are part of what is now considered the biggest asset seizures in American history.
The DoJ are said to be planning to take control of US$1 billion in assets improperly taken from 1MDB.
“As much as US$6 billion is said to have vanished from the fund,” artnet reported US Federal prosecutors as saying.
The DoJ filed lawsuits yesterday saying that over US$3.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB.
In its lawsuits, filed in Los Angeles, DoJ said it sought to seize assets “involved in and traceable to an international conspiracy to launder money misappropriated from 1MDB”.
According to artnet, Low made headlines again this May when he initiated a selloff of his art collection, including the Basquiat and a canvas by Claude Monet, amid a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into his financial dealings.
He sold the Basquiat for just US$35 million, some 28 per cent less than what he paid for it, artnet quoted the Wall Street Journal as saying two months ago.
The DoJ also alleged offences were committed over a four-year period and involved multiple individuals, including Malaysian officials and their associates, who conspired to fraudulently divert billions of dollars from 1MDB.
It specifically named Riza Aziz, who is Prime Minister Najib Razak’s stepson, Low Taek Jho (better known as Jho Low), and Abu Dhabi government officials Khadem al-Qubaisi and Mohamed Ahmed Badawy Al-Husseiny.