The civil lawsuits filed by the US Justice Department on 20 July 2016 to seize assets worth over US$1 billion stolen from Malaysia's state fund, 1MDB, are sending tight ripples across the globe.
Not only are these the largest set of cases brought to court under the Department's Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, the 1MDB fund started in 2009 ostensibly for national development purposes by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak soon after he came to power, is being investigated in at least six other jurisdictions, including Singapore, Switzerland, Hong Kong and of course, Malaysia.
The alleged offenders involve ‘an international conspiracy to launder money misappropriated from 1MDB’, mentioned by US Justice Department include the Prime Minister's stepson Riza Aziz, the founder of Red Granite Pictures, whose film production ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ was nominated for an Oscar, Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho and two government officials from Abu Dhabi, Khadem Abdulla Al-Qubaisi and Mohammed Ahmed Badawy Al-Husseiny.
In Malaysia, while the repercussions of alleged wrongdoings involving 1MDB have seen top politicians who had openly voiced criticism against the Prime Minister's handling of the fund sacked and other heavy-handed actions taken against whistle-blowers, all the legal avenues within the country for bringing perpetrators to court have proved ineffective.
Internationally, threats of legal action by Malaysian authorities against the Wall Street Journal, which had along with the Londonbased Sarawak Report website been publishing reports on the highly dubious behaviour of key persons in 1MDB's international network, had over many months been repeated but never carried out.
In Singapore, investigations into 1MDB have been noted by state prosecutors as ‘the most complex and largest money laundering case ever to have taken place in Singapore’. The Monetary Authority of Singapore has withdrawn the license of the Swiss bank, BSI SA, to operate locally and senior BSI officials are being investigated. Two have been charged.
The details now provided in the cases filed by the US Justice Department are astonishingly thorough. These particulars delivered so publicly cannot but stimulate and hasten the execution of further legal actions in other countries, each building its case with help from revelations made by the others.