- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Justice Department moved Wednesday to seize $1 billion in assets that officials say were stolen from an investment fund founded by the Malaysian government and instead used to pay for production of the 2013 movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” and purchase luxury items such as artwork by Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, a $35 million jet, and high-end real estate.

In the asset forfeiture complaint filed Wednesday, the Justice Department seeks to recover those and other items that they say high-level officials with the 1Malaysia Development Berhad misappropriated — including all future proceeds from Red Granite Pictures, a company that helped fund the production of the 2013 film.

Co-conspirators stole more than $3.5 million from the fund between 2009 through 2015 through a money laundering scheme, according to the complaint.

“With this action, we are seeking to forfeit and recover funds that were intended to grow the Malaysian economy and support the Malaysian people,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who announced the filing of the complaint. “Instead, they were stolen, laundered through American financial institutions and used to enrich a few officials and their associates.”

The complaint seeking to reclaim $1 billion in assets was billed by Justice Department officials as the largest single action ever brought under the department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.

The strategic state fund was created in 2009 as Malaysian Prime Minister Rajib Nazak took office. According to the court filing, it was devised to “was ostensibly created to pursue investment and development for the economic benefit of Malaysia and its people.” However, high-level officials with access to the fund “treated this public trust as a personal bank account,” Ms. Lynch said.

Officials are seeking to reclaim the $1 billion in assets out of the $3.5 billion stolen as much of the rest of the money has already been spent, some to repay gambling debts in Las Vegas, and on luxury lifestyle purchases, according to the Justice Department.

The complaint names a number of individuals believed to have played a role in the theft of the funds, including Riza Aziz, the stepson of Prime Minister Nazak and a co-founder of Red Granite Pictures.

No individuals named in the complaint are being charged with a crime at this time. Ms. Lynch declined to discuss the implications for those named in the complaint or the potential role of the prime minister. She indicated that criminal probes are ongoing at this time.

All assets and funds the Justice Department is able to seize will be returned to the Malaysian people, Ms. Lynch said.

Officials with 1Malaysia Development Berhad did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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