DoJ’s 1MDB civil suit ‘indefinitely frozen’ now, says BN

Eric-See-ToPETALING JAYA: The government is unfazed by the US Department of Justice’s (DoJ) reported criminal investigation into money allegedly stolen from 1MDB.

According to BN strategic communications (BNSC) deputy director Eric See-To, this is because no criminal charges have been filed by the DoJ yet.

In fact, the DoJ’s latest move means that its civil forfeiture lawsuits against assets acquired from funds allegedly embezzled from 1MDB are now “frozen”, said See-To.

“This is nothing new as more than a year ago, there were periodic news reports that criminal charges were imminent – but until today, no criminal charges have been filed.

“I also note that the US Justice Department had asked for an indefinite suspension of the civil suit, which is unusual as there is usually a time limit to such requests.

“Until such (criminal) charges are filed, the net effect is that the US government has essentially indefinitely frozen the much-talked about civil suits,” he said in a text message to FMT.

See-To added that the suspension of the civil suits is “the bottom line of today’s news”.

Bloomberg today reported that the DoJ’s filings on Thursday are a sign that the US is escalating its probe in a worldwide effort to track how much of the money that was raised by 1MDB for development projects was used to pay for luxury real estate, art, film productions and more.

It also claimed that DoJ officials had asked a judge in Los Angeles to put on hold civil forfeiture lawsuits against assets acquired by Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, because pursuing these may have “an adverse effect” on its ability to conduct the criminal investigation.

An FBI agent had warned that information disclosed in the civil cases may reveal “potential targets and subjects of the investigation and the investigative techniques that have been and will be used in the investigation”, the international news agency reported.

“Such disclosures could result in the destruction of evidence, flight of potential subjects and targets, or the identification and intimidation of potential witnesses”, according to the agent’s declaration.

But See-To said if the DoJ had enough grounds to file criminal charges against the individuals it had named in the court filings, then it should proceed with charging them.

“Let the courts and the individuals involved prove whether they are guilty or innocent.”

He added that the DoJ’s civil suits, first filed last year, did not name 1MDB or any government officials as a party to the lawsuit.

“And they do not seem to be a party to any criminal investigation suggested in the news reports today.

“As far as 1MDB is concerned, none of the money allegedly misappropriated legally belonged to them at the point of misappropriation,” he said.

Clarifying his statement, See-To said that money allegedly misappropriated from 1MDB had already left the state-owned firm’s accounts and had been transferred to third parties.

The transfers, he said, were done via legal transactions.

“It is from these third parties that such funds were allegedly misappropriated, never directly from 1MDB.

“Thus, 1MDB is claiming from these third parties, which are mostly the so-called ‘fake Aabars’, but owned and run by the real Aabar executives.”

In its civil suits, the DoJ alleged that from 2009 to 2015, more than US$4.5 billion belonging to 1MDB was embezzled by high-level officials of the firm and their associates.

See-To said what should be highlighted at the moment was 1MDB’s “successful” US$350 million payment to International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC).

The firm reportedly made the payment of more than half the sum it owed IPIC, a day before the Aug 12 deadline it had been given.

“This proves once and for all that there is no money missing or misappropriation,” said See-To.

“This should be the top priority for 1MDB, amidst the distraction of the DoJ suits and the speculative news reports.”