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Malaysia: Auction Falls Short of $130 Million Sought for Equanimity

Hadi Azmi and Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
2018-12-13
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Government lawyers Jeremy M. Joseph (center) and Ong Chee Kwan speak to reporters in Kuala Lumpur after a court approved the sale of the yacht Equanimity, Aug. 24, 2018.
Government lawyers Jeremy M. Joseph (center) and Ong Chee Kwan speak to reporters in Kuala Lumpur after a court approved the sale of the yacht Equanimity, Aug. 24, 2018.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

A superyacht seized from fugitive financier Jho Low is back on the market after Malaysia’s government rejected secret bids that came in below a guiding selling price of U.S. $130 million (543.44 million ringgit), officials announced Thursday.

The government was now moving to sell the Equanimity off through private negotiations because of unacceptable bids received when the government placed the luxury vessel on the auction block from Oct. 29 to Nov. 29, said lawyer Jeremy M. Joseph, whom the attorney general appointed to represent the government and beleaguered state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) in the sale.

“We are going to the second phase because the market is very niche, very specialized so buyers prefer to have private negotiations,” Joseph told BenarNews.

The yacht was confiscated from Jho Low as part of an international probe into allegations of massive corruption and embezzlement of billions of dollars in 1MDB money. The guiding price was set after Equanimity’s value was assessed by Winterbothams, a Britain-based appraiser.

The Admiralty Court in Kuala Lumpur agreed to allow the sale through private negotiations, setting a deadline of March 31, 2019, Joseph said.

“But it is not a private negotiation with one party. We are open to anyone who wants to come with an offer, we can negotiate a deal provided that they can offer within the guiding price,” he said.

Joseph said there were bidders, but declined to reveal how many there were.

“[I] cannot tell which country they come from because we don’t want the information to leak, and the interested parties use this information to manipulate their bids. We don’t want that,” he said.

Joseph said the government would have to consider the best offer on the table if bids did not reach $130 million.

“It’s not a minimum price, it is a guide price. If somebody offers a sufficiently high value we have to negotiate,” he said.

On Nov. 29, the last day to accept bids, government lawyers revealed that bids for the Equanimity came from prospective buyers in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States.

The 300-foot yacht is believed to have been purchased by Jho Low – whose real name is Low Taek Jho – for $250 million (1 billion ringgit) with funds allegedly stolen from 1MDB.

Jho Low and his father, Low Hock Peng, were both charged in absentia on Aug. 24 for allegedly laundering stolen funds from 1MDB to purchase the Equanimity. In addition, Jho Low was charged in absentia on Dec.4 on suspicion of other offenses related to 1MDB.

The U.S. Justice Department alleged that almost $4.5 billion (18.7 billion ringgit) from the sovereign wealth fund was embezzled and laundered through real estate and other assets.

In August, just weeks after the Indonesian government turned over the Equanimity to Malaysia, Jho Low issued a statement regarding the government’s plan to sell it to the highest bidder.

“Given the illegal manner in which they took the asset, it is unlikely any bid will come close to its fair market value,” Jho Low said in the statement.

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