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Thailand Denies Claim of Aiding 1MDB Fugitive Jho Low

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Bangkok
2020-02-24
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Future Forward Party spokeswoman Pannika Wanich speaks to reporters at the Thai political party’s headquarters in Bangkok, Feb. 21, 2020.
Future Forward Party spokeswoman Pannika Wanich speaks to reporters at the Thai political party’s headquarters in Bangkok, Feb. 21, 2020.
AFP

Thai authorities were considering legal action against a banned opposition party official who accused the government of helping to hide a fugitive financier linked to Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said Monday.

Pannika Wanich, former spokeswoman for the Future Forward Party (FFP), on Sunday accused the Thai government of allowing Low Taek Jho (better known as Jho Low) to visit Thailand although he was subject to an Interpol red notice – a request to law enforcement agencies worldwide to locate and arrest the person named.

Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Friday ordered the party, which captured the third largest number of seats in last year’s general election, disbanded.

“[In response to] such assumptions based on unrelated things, involved agencies have information. They don’t reveal it now but will use [it] in prosecution,” Prayuth told reporters when questioned about Pannika’s claim.

“Be cautious, this involves a foreign relationship,” he added.

Government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat echoed the prime minister.

“[I] affirm that the [allegation] is false,” Narumon said in a Facebook post. “Agencies involved are considering filing a legal action and the main agency would clarify the matter.”

Pannika stood her ground on Monday.

“It is disappointing that the government does not try to disclose the information but chose to threaten prosecution,” she told reporters.

Pannika and other officials of the disbanded FFP, including leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, have been kicked out of parliament and banned by court order from political office for 10 years.

In its judgement, the court ruled that Thanathorn, whose auto-parts business made him a billionaire, had illegally loaned money to his party ahead of last year’s general election.

More than 60 FFP members elected to parliament can retain their seats if they join another party within two months, the Associated Press reported.

Jho Low, who fled Malaysia and is the target of an international manhunt, faces criminal charges in Malaysia and the United States for his alleged role in embezzling from 1MDB through his relationship with former Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Najib set up 1Malaysia Development Berhad in 2009 ostensibly to spur Malaysia’s economic development, but the fund amassed billions in debts.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice accused “Malaysian Official 1” – later identified as Najib – and associates of embezzling and laundering more than U.S. $4.5 billion (18.8 billion ringgit) in 1MDB-linked money between 2009 and 2014. Since Najib fell from power in the 2018 general election, he has been indicted on 42 corruption-related charges stemming from the scandal, and is currently standing trial on some of those charges.

Justo case

Pannika had compared Thailand’s treatment of Jho Low, of allegedly allowing him to enter and leave the country, to a man she said was innocent but spent months behind bars.

“On Oct. 7, 2016, Singapore requested that Interpol issue a red notice to arrest Jho Low for money laundering. But from Oct. 7, 2016, to May 13, 2018, Jho Low registered on immigration records five times, flying in on a private jet,” she said.

“Thailand could have denied his arrival but it did not,” she said. “There is no evidence that Thailand tried to deny his arrival or inform Singapore about the wanted money launderer.”

She compared Jho Low to Xavier Andre Justo, a former employee of PetroSaudi International Ltd., who exposed a deal between PetroSaudi and the 1MDB fund. He alleged that Najib siphoned millions of dollars from 1MBD.

Justo was sentenced in 2015 to three years in Thai prison on charges of extorting money from PetroSaudi, his Thai lawyer told BenarNews on Monday. He later received a royal pardon and returned to Malaysia in 2018 to assist in the 1MDB investigation.

Last year, the chairman of The Edge Media group reported rewarding 8.2 million ringgit ($2 million) to Justo for helping to expose the scandal.

Not guilty plea

In another 1MDB-related development on Monday, Goldman Sachs pleaded not guilty in Malaysia’s high court to charges related to the sale of bonds totaling 27.2 billion ringgit ($6.43 billion) in 2012 and 2013, Malaysian state news agency Bernama reported.

At the time the charges were filed in December 2018, Malaysian Attorney General Tommy Thomas alleged that the Wall Street investment bank needed to be held accountable for benefiting from 2.5 billion ringgit ($600 million) for underwriting the bonds.

“Their fraud goes to the heart of our capital markets, and if no criminal proceedings are instituted against the accused, their undermining of our financial system and market integrity will go unpunished,” he said at the time.

In October 2018, the U.S. government unsealed indictments against Goldman Sachs bankers Ng Chong Hwa (also known as Roger Ng) and Tim Leissner, alleging they hid their partnership with Jho Low from their employer.

“More than $2.7 billion (11.28 billion ringgit) was misappropriated from 1MDB and Jho Low, Ng, Leissner and others conspired to launder this money through the U.S. financial system to pay bribes to foreign officials and for the personal benefit of themselves and their relatives,” the U.S. government at the time.

Leissner pleaded guilty to two charges related to money laundering while Ng was arrested in Malaysia and faces criminal charges there and in the U.S.

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