US moves to seize properties in London allegedly linked to 1MDB

jholow-usKUALA LUMPUR: The US government has filed another lawsuit against Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low. This time it wants to seize a penthouse, an office and a flat in London belonging to Low.

According to the US Department of Justice (DoJ) filing, “Low acquired an interest in the Stratton penthouse and the Stratton flat using 1MDB proceeds,” and that “Low used funds traceable to misappropriated 1MDB proceeds to purchase the Stratton office”.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the DoJ has been working with UK authorities to trace the properties allegedly bought with 1MDB funds.

The DoJ said it was seeking the forfeiture of the properties in London because they were “derived from violations of US law” and were involved with money-laundering offenses, according to the WSJ report.

The penthouse, office building and another flat are located on Stratton Street opposite the Ritz hotel in the upmarket Mayfair district, with a view of Buckingham Palace.

They were acquired for US$98 million which Low got from 1MDB, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said in court documents filed on June 7 in the US District Court for the Central District of California.

The WSJ, quoting from DoJ documents, described Low as a central figure in an alleged plot to siphon billions of dollars from 1MDB

The London properties are the latest in a string of homes, art and other assets scattered around the world that the DoJ wants to seize as, it claims, they were bought from funds coming from 1MDB. The DoJ wants to return the money to Malaysia.

According to the report, it is not just the office that was acquired using 1MDB funds but Low also acquired the lingerie company Myla, which had its headquarters there, with funds “traceable to 1MDB”.

The WSJ said Low resigned as a director of Myla in November, according to the Companies House business registry. It said Myla, which lost £7.59 million in 2015, could not be reached for comment.

The WSJ said neither Low nor his lawyers responded to requests for comment on Monday.

In the past, Low had told news organisations he was the victim of political infighting in Malaysia and was only an informal adviser to 1MDB. Lawyers for Low’s family had earlier said they would contest the US asset-seizure lawsuits.

The WSJ report went on to give the details about how Low had acquired the London properties and which banks had been used in the transactions.

The 1MDB scandal unfolded, according to the WSJ, when the state fund, which had run up a multibillion-dollar debt to finance development but had little to show for it, began struggling to repay. Later, billions of dollars were found to be missing.

At least six nations are investigating transfers of money from 1MDB, with Singapore already having taken several people to court and closing down units of at least two banks.

1MDB has denied any wrongdoing and has promised to cooperate with investigations.