U.S. to Pounce on 1MDB Assets

U.S., asset seizure, 1MDB, Jho Low, Najib Razak, Riza Aziz

U.S. officials are preparing their next move against Malaysia's 1MDB, which is suspected to diverting state money to private coffers. The U.S.'s represents a quantum leap in the crackdown on the scandal-torn fund.

Prosecutors in the U.S. are preparing to seize more than $1 billion of assets such as property holdings that are linked to 1MDB, according to a report in «The Wall Street Journal».

The report didn't disclose where the U.S. plans to pounce, but the newspaper has previously reported that people linked to 1MDB invested millions of dollars in real estate and businesses in the U.S.

Luxury Properties

The stepson of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, film producer Riza Aziz allegedly bought a spacious duplex overlooking New York’s Central Park for $33.5 million as well as a $17.5 million Beverly Hills mansion with funds from 1MDB, according to the WSJ's reporting.

U.S. authorities are expected to move as soon as Wednesday to seize the assets, according to the WSJ, under an asset recovery initiative set up in 2010 to target the ill-gotten proceeds of corruption overseas. The newspaper has previously reported extensively about alleged money-laundering and diverting of 1MDB cash into projects like funding the 2013 film «The Wolf of Wall Street.» 

Swiss Bank Shut

The asset seizure would represent the U.S.'s first move against 1MDB, which is the subject of a global corruption investigation looking into whether billions were diverted from the state fund – intended to fuel the Malaysian economy – into private hands. Officials in the U.S., Switzerland, Luxembourg, Singapore and Malaysia are investigating the complex web of financial transactions used, including in offshore centers, to transfer the money.

The U.S.'s investigation of 1MDB will propel the scandal into a truly global one on par with one looking into graft at global soccer body FIFA. Until now, the 1MDB investigation has largely focused on Singapore, where Swiss bank Banca della Svizzera Italiana (BSI) was shut down over its dealings with the fund, and Switzerland.

Obama, Najib Golf Round

The move is set to put more heat in Singapore's fledgling financial center, which is under pressure to show that it can maintain a clean reputation even as corruption is alleged of its closest neighbors and trading partners.

It also puts Barack Obama in an uncomfortable position: the U.S. President hosted Najib for a round of golf in Hawaii in December 2014. The Malaysian prime minister, who set up 1MDB in 2009 and oversees it, has previously denied wrong-doing.

Jho Low, First Lady, Abu Dhabi Exec

The U.S. is reportedly investigating several people besides Najib's stepson. They include Malaysian first lady Rosmah Mansor, Jho Low, a Singapore-based Malaysian financier who allegedly helped set up 1MDB, and Khaden Al Qubaisi, formerly a high-ranking executive at Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth fund who allegedly dealt extensively with 1MDB.

Other banks besides BSI being scrutinized for their 1MDB dealings include UBS, Falcon Private Bank, and Coutts International. Goldman Sachs is also being probed in the U.S. because it raised money for 1MDB through a bond deal.

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