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US announces $49m settlement in Malaysia 1MDB scandal

US investigators say that more than $4.5 billion was looted from state-owned investment firm 1MDB, with alleged help from Malaysian ex-prime minister Najib Razak and his inner circle
US investigators say that more than $4.5 billion was looted from state-owned investment firm 1MDB, with alleged help from Malaysian ex-prime minister Najib Razak and his inner circle MANAN VATSYAYANA AFP/File
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Washington (AFP)

US authorities have reached a deal to recover another $49 million in assets bought with money looted from Malaysia's 1MDB state investment fund and laundered through the global financial system.

Billions of dollars were plundered from the sovereign wealth fund and spent on everything from a luxury yacht to artwork in a fraud allegedly involving former Malaysian premier Najib Razak and his inner circle.

Najib was ejected in 2018 elections largely due to public anger over the scandal and is now facing trial over his involvement in the theft.

The US Justice Department says it has now returned or helped Malaysia recover nearly $1.1 billion in funds and assets.

The latest tranche comes from the settlement of a civil case against Khadem al-Qubaisi, an Emirati businessman accused of helping siphon 1MDB funds out of Malaysia.

"Instead of benefitting the people of Malaysia, as intended, these funds were used by the co-conspirators to finance lavish acquisitions of personal property, luxury real estate and business investments in the United States and elsewhere," said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski in a Monday statement.

More than $4.5 billion originally meant to fund state investments was looted from 1MDB between 2009 and 2015 by high-level officials of the fund and a high-flying young businessman named Low Taek Jho, according to US investigators.

Low used much the money to buy luxurious homes and top-level art and invest in Hollywood movies, including the Martin Scorsese hit "Wolf of Wall Street".

The Justice Department seized most of Low's assets and has been slowly liquidating them for return to Malaysia.

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