Malaysian businessman hits out after scandal-linked yacht seized


Kuala Lumpur (AFP)

A Malaysian businessman allegedly at the centre of a financial scandal has accused US justice officials of "global overreach" after a yacht linked to the controversy was seized off Bali.

Police on the Indonesian island Wednesday boarded and searched the luxury vessel Equanimity which was being sought by US investigators as part of their probe into Malaysian state fund 1MDB.

The US Justice Department alleges in civil lawsuits that $4.5 billion was looted from 1MDB -- set up Prime Minister Najib Razak -- in a campaign of fraud and money-laundering. Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing.

The suits list $1.7 billion in assets allegedly bought with the stolen money US officials are seeking to recover

These include the 300-foot (90-metre) yacht Equanimity, reportedly worth some $250 million, which US officials said was bought by a financier known as Jho Low, an unofficial adviser to 1MDB.

Low, real name Low Taek Jho, was said to have made key financial decisions linked to 1MDB, although he did not hold any official positions in Malaysia.

He has denied any wrongdoing and his current whereabouts are unknown.

After the seizure of Equanimity, a spokesman for Low noted that the Department of Justice (DoJ) had officially delayed its efforts to seize assets last year.

A US court reportedly granted a stay after a request from authorities, as they believed the civil proceedings could affect a criminal probe they are also conducting.

The spokesman said in a statement late Wednesday the DoJ 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 overreach -- all based on entirely unsupported claims of wrongdoing."

Opposition politicians jumped on the seizure of the Cayman Islands-registered vessel to attack the government.

Senior opposition figure Azmin Ali described the seizure as a "milestone" in the investigation into 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

"The failure of Malaysian authorities to act in the cause of justice presents a stark contrast to this bold action by Indonesian authorities who cooperated with the US Department of Justice," he said in a statement.