PORT KLANG, Malaysia (AP) - A luxury yacht allegedly bought with money stolen from the multibillion-dollar looting of a state investment fund arrived Tuesday at a Malaysian port.
The $250 million Equanimity, seized by Indonesia off Bali in February in cooperation with the U.S. FBI, was handed over to Malaysian authorities on Monday at the Indonesian island of Batam near Singapore.
The U.S. Justice Department, one of several foreign agencies investigating money stolen and laundered from the 1MDB fund, had listed the yacht among assets it could seize and sell to recover stolen funds. Following the handover of the yacht to Malaysia, the Justice Department has sought to suspend legal proceedings to determine what Malaysia plans to do with the vessel.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has thanked Indonesian authorities for returning the yacht, saying it belongs to Malaysia because it was bought with money stolen from the 1MDB fund. Officials have said the yacht will be sold to the highest bidder to recover the stolen fund.
Najib set up 1MDB when he took power in 2009, but it accumulated billions in debts. The 1MDB scandal led to his shocking electoral defeat in May and Najib is now facing charges.
Malaysian and international authorities want to question Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, who the Justice Department alleges was a key figure in the theft and international laundering of $4.5 billion from 1MDB. U.S. investigators said Low, known widely as Jho Low, bought the yacht with proceeds diverted from 1MDB.
Low, who has so far evaded arrest, issued a statement through his U.S. attorney on Monday protesting the handover of the yacht as an “illegal act” for ignoring court proceedings in the United States.
In filings to a California district court Monday, Low’s lawyers also opposed the U.S. government’s bid to suspend court proceedings. Low has urged the court to direct the U.S. government to state efforts it has made to secure the vessel and to find out Malaysia’s intentions by Aug 17.
Mahathir has said anyone who wants to claim ownership of the yacht must show proof that the vessel was not bought with stolen funds.
“We want to know where they obtained so much money to buy such an expensive yacht,” he said in a Facebook video on Monday.
Malaysian Attorney General Tommy Thomas defended the takeover of the Equanimity.
He said Indonesia, Malaysia and the U.S. recently activated the mutual legal assistance treaties among themselves. This was followed by a warrant of arrest issued by Malaysia’s High court on Monday that led to the handover, he said.
“Accordingly the Equanimity is properly seized under the laws of Malaysia,” Thomas said in a statement.
The Equanimity’s lavish amenities include a helicopter landing pad, plunge pool, gymnasium and a cinema. It was built in 2014 by the Dutch yacht manufacturer Oceano, which received detailed instructions from Low about its outfitting, according to the Justice Department’s asset recovery case.
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