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Malaysian Tycoon’s Whereabouts Unknown after Indonesia Seizes Luxury Yacht

Anton Muhajir and Razlan Rashid
Denpasar, Indonesia, and Kuala Lumpur
2018-02-28
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Indonesian police officers stand guard as the luxury yacht Equanimity is seen in the background off Bali, Feb. 28, 2018.
Indonesian police officers stand guard as the luxury yacht Equanimity is seen in the background off Bali, Feb. 28, 2018.
AP

A Malaysian tycoon at the center of a criminal probe into billions of dollars stolen from corruption-tainted state fund 1MDB was not on board when Indonesian police and FBI agents seized a superyacht off Bali island, officials said Wednesday.

Businessman Low Taek Jho (alias Jho Low) had bought the 100-meter (300-foot) luxury vessel Equanimity – estimated to be worth U.S. $250 million – with some of the $4.5 billion allegedly misappropriated from sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials said in June 2017.

But Jho Low was not among the 34 people who were on the yacht, which was moored at Bali’s Benoa Bay when Indonesian and U.S. authorities raided it on Tuesday before seizing the vessel on Wednesday, Agung Setya Imam Effendi, director of economic crimes at Indonesia’s national police, told MetroTV.

“All of them were crew members. Thirty-four people in total,” he told the station, which showed footage of Indonesian police and FBI agents interviewing crewmen on board the yacht. “Yes. The yacht was not carrying any passengers. All of them were crew members.”

Agung said police started working with the FBI a week ago after the yacht was located in Indonesian waters. “We have legal confirmation that this asset is the result of a crime,” he said.

“Based on our investigations, the ship had 34 crew members, all of them foreign nationals,” Agung later told reporters.

Daniel Tahi Monang Silitonga, deputy director of the economic and special crimes unit of Indonesia’s criminal investigation bureau, confirmed FBI agents were present when Indonesian police boarded the ship.

“We are researching the owner of the yacht. We’ll release the results of that investigation later,” he told reporters.

“FBI investigations [found that] part of the proceeds of that corruption were used to buy a ship that was sailing in Indonesia,” he said, referring to the DOJ probe.

The yacht had been sailing in Indonesian waters since November 2017, he said.

MarineTraffic, a maritime database, had logged the yacht’s docking at Sabang, a town on the island of Pulau Weh, northwest of Sumatra in October 2017, Malaysian news portal malaysiakini.com reported.

In August 2017, DOJ asked a California court to put aside 29 civil cases filed since July 2016 so it could launch a criminal investigation related to the debt-laden 1MDB, which is the target of money-laundering probes in at least one-half dozen countries.

The state fund has been tied to corruption allegations surrounding Prime Minister Najib Razak, who founded 1MDB but has denied any wrongdoing.

Court documents obtained by BenarNews show DOJ accused Jho Low of laundering more than $400 million stolen from 1MDB through acquisitions of properties in California, New York and London, a jet purchased for $35 million and the yacht.

In a statement emailed to the Malaysian media, a spokesman for Jho Low complained about the seizure because U.S. justice officials had “still not taken any steps to prove that any impropriety has occurred.”

“It is therefore disappointing that, rather than reflecting on the deeply flawed and politically motivated allegations, the DOJ is continuing with its pattern of global over-reach – all based on entirely unsupported claims of wrongdoing,” the spokesman said.

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