US Justice Department aims to seize one billion dollars in Malaysian assets

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The US Justice Department has filed lawsuits against a state fund in Malaysia over alleged money laundering. The scandal has embroiled a number of high-profile government officials both inside and outside Malaysia.

The Justice Department said on Wednesday it was aiming to seize some $1 billion (908 million euros) in assets in connection with a Malaysian state fund called 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Attorney General Loretta Lynch will provide more details later on Wednesday, though US authorities said they are moving to seize dozens of properties “involved in and traceable to an international conspiracy to launder money misappropriated from 1MDB.”

The scandal has cast a shadow over the government of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who established the fund in an effort to promote economic investment.

Malaysia - Premierminister Najib RazakMalaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has had to fend off accusations of corruption

High-profile figures named

The lawsuits, which were filed in Los Angeles, didn’t name Razak; however, they did name a number of other high-profile figures, including Riza Aziz, Razak’s step-son, as a “relevant individual” in the case.

Justice Department officials also named Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, and Abu Dhabi officials Khadem al-Qubaisi and Mohamed Ahmed Badawy Al-Husseiny.

According to the lawsuits, funds from 1MDB were diverted to the cofounder of Petrosaudi, which had a joint venture with 1MDB, and then on to a high-ranking figure in the Malaysian government, known only as “Malaysian Official One.”

Pressure mounting on Razak

Other governments have joined the US in placing pressure on the Malaysian government to reveal the location of the missing funds. Switzerland and Singapore have frozen millions of dollars in assets in the wake of the scandal.

Razak has had to fend off mounting allegations of corruption since The Wall Street Journal reported that he had received nearly $700 million in payments from 1MDB in 2013, allegations that the organization denies.

The government later said the donations were a gift from the Saudi royal family.

blc/kl (AFP, Reuters)

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