Updated at 4:20 p.m. ET on 2018-06-14
A fugitive financier linked to criminal investigations into Malaysia’s 1MDB financial scandal has made a $1 billion offer to the Malaysian government to stay out of jail, according to media reports published on Thursday.
The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets reported that Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, sought the deal with the government of new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. He offered to drop his claim to more than U.S. $1 billion (4 billion ringgit) in assets in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
Mahathir rejected it, according to media reports.
“I’m quite sure the kind of incentive he would readily accept is that he would not be prosecuted,” Mahathir told the Journal. “But we can’t do that. It’s against the law. The law does not provide for what the American law provides, plea bargaining and all that.”
The reports came out a week after a law firm representing Jho Low said he would assist the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in its investigation of the massive corruption scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) after it ordered him to present himself for questioning.
An article published on Thursday by Malaysia’s Star newspaper quoted sources as saying that Jho Low was prepared to meet with MACC investigators in Dubai, but that dates had not been set between officials from the anti-graft agency and his lawyers.
U.S. justice officials have described the 1MDB affair as “the worst kleptocracy scandal in recent times,” pointing out that more than $4.5 billion (17.9 billion ringgit) was stolen from the fund from its inception by former Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2009 until its advisory board was dissolved in 2016.
The U.S. Justice Department 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 a mega-yacht estimated to be worth $250 million.
According to Thursday’s article by the Journal, which cited a person familiar with the case, Jho Low told associates earlier this year that he felt safe because Najib had protected him. After Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan alliance defeated Najib’s Barisan Nasional coalition in last month’s general election, Jho Low reached out to the office of the new prime minister with his offer.
Najib, who has been barred from leaving Malaysia since last month, has twice been summoned for questioning by MACC in connection with the 1MDB probe. He has denied allegations that he stole money from the state fund.
Jho Low’s lawyer, Robin Rathmell, an attorney with the international law firm Kobre & Kim, referred an email request for comment to a communications consultant.