Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad thanked Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Monday for handing over a luxury yacht at the center of a multibillion-dollar corruption probe related to state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The U.S. $250 million Equanimity, allegedly bought by Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho (better known as Jho Low) using funds stolen from 1MDB, is in Malaysian waters after it crossed the maritime border and departed from the Indonesian island of Batam, near Singapore, according to the website Vessel Finder, which tracks boats globally through GPS.
“I am happy that the Indonesian government has agreed to hand over the yacht to Malaysia and I would like to thank Joko Widodo for the strong cooperation,” Mahathir said in a Facebook video.
He urged anyone who wanted to claim the vessel to submit proof of purchase.
“The yacht was bought using the money from 1MDB and the money belongs to the Malaysian people,” the 93-year-old leader said. “Therefore, those who want to claim the vessel, they must provide a receipt or proof that they own the yacht and they bought it using their own money.”
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had listed the yacht in court documents as among the assets bought when associates of former Malaysian leader Najib Razak allegedly embezzled $4.5 billion from the state fund.
DOJ investigators consider Jho Low a key figure in the probe, but his whereabouts are unknown.
Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng told reporters on Monday that the government would sell the Cayman Islands-flagged vessel, which was expected to arrive at the port of Klang on Tuesday.
“And the money will be returned to the people,” he said.
In August 2017, DOJ announced it was pursuing criminal action against those involved in the fraudulent diversion of funds from 1MDB. U.S. federal prosecutors have not charged anyone criminally in connection with the alleged embezzlement.
Malaysian officials filed four criminal charges against Najib last month, accusing him of criminal breach of trust and abuse of power in connection with the 1MDB scandal.
Formed by Najib in 2009 ostensibly to pursue development projects that would benefit Malaysian citizens, 1MDB is at the center of money-laundering investigations in at least six countries, including Switzerland and Singapore.
On Feb. 27, Indonesian police and FBI agents boarded the Equanimity while it was moored in Benoa Bay, off southern Bali, seizing documents and questioning its 34-member crew, in response to request from the FBI.
Jho Low’s lawyer: Government’s action was illegitimate
Meanwhile, a Malaysian police source told BenarNews on Monday that officials have yet to receive information on the yacht’s exact time of arrival.
“We are still awaiting orders from top brass officers on the time. It was said that the vessel will arrive at noon, but as of now I can’t confirm it,” the source said.
Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) officials also said they were not involved in the yacht’s seizure.
“MACC is not involved. Please check with the police,” MACC chief Mohd Shukri Abdull told BenarNews.
Before the yacht was handed over to Malaysian authorities, a lawyer for Jho Low argued that the seizure was against court rulings in Indonesia and the United States.
“The action of the Mahathir government in illegitimately taking this asset shows just how quickly the rule of law disappears in Mahathir’s regime,” lawyer James Haggerty said in a statement Sunday.
“It is a violation of an Indonesian law and court decision by a politically motivated Malaysian government bent on advancing its own political agenda with little regard to existing court rulings or basic legal rights,” he said.
Haggerty claimed the transfer of the yacht goes against a recent U.S. court order.
“The US DOJ argued that it is critical that they have possession to ensure the asset retains its value until a fair court hearing can determine final ownership and the rights of all the parties involved,” he said.
Malaysia Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu told parliament on Monday that any action taken by authorities must be in line with the law.
“I’m very proud that the 1MDB asset is coming back,” he said, “but I hope the police and our authorities will take action in accordance with Malaysian and international law.”