Swiss banker found guilty in US$700 million 1MDB transfer

A banker with Coutts & Co was convicted regarding a US$700 million (RM2.97 billion) transfer into an account controlled by Jho Low. (Bloomberg pic)

GENEVA: A former banker with Coutts & Co has been found guilty of failing to flag money-laundering concerns related to a transfer of US$700 million (about RM2.97 billion) into an account controlled by Low Taek Jho or Jho Low, the alleged mastermind behind the 1MDB scandal.

The banker, who was only identified as A., was fined 50,000 Swiss francs (US$55,000) by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court in a ruling on Friday.

“There were numerous signs that there were serious indications of money laundering, which grew over time,” the court said in a statement. “Despite being aware of these well-founded suspicions, A. left the communication” to regulatory officials “until the moment he left the bank.”

Jho Low, a well-connected Penang-born financier, is wanted by Malaysian authorities in their corruption and money laundering investigations regarding 1MDB’s investments and financial deals.

Last week, former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was convicted on charges of corruption and embezzlement relating to funds of a former 1MDB subsidiary, SRC International.

According to court documents, Low established a Seychelles-registered company, Good Star, in May 2009 and opened an account at Coutts’ Singapore branch less than a month later. By September that year, Low was asking to cease all communication with Coutts in Singapore and to receive updates only from Coutts’ Swiss unit to a Gmail address he had created.

Despite the unorthodox demand, A. approved Low’s request to transfer US$700 million from 1MDB to an account held in the name of Good Star. In an Oct 2, 2009 email, he wrote “the due diligence is so far good and we have sufficient evidence that the payment is true and valid.”

A’s lawyer, Monika Roth, wasn’t immediately available to comment on the verdict.

Coutts & Co was sold by Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc in 2016 to Union Bancaire Privee. It was fined US$6.5 million in 2017 for allowing US$2.4 billion worth of assets related to 1MDB to flow through its accounts at a number of Swiss banks.

Low is currently a fugitive, thought to be in Macau. Authorities in Macau have rejected that suggestion by Malaysian police. Malaysia is seeking his arrest after issuing new charges against him in February.