US seeks Monet, Warhol art linked to Malaysia scandal

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) –


The United States is seeking to seize another $96 million in assets allegedly linked to Malaysia's 1MDB corruption scandal, including Claude Monet and Andy Warhol paintings, officials said.

Billions of dollars were looted from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB in a fraud allegedly involving the country's ex-leader and his cronies, and used to bankroll a worldwide spending spree.

The US Department of Justice said its latest legal action to recover 1MDB-linked items means it has now sought to claw back over $1.8 billion in assets.

The latest items include artworks "Vetheuil Au Soleil" by French Impressionist master Monet and "Colored Campbell's Soup Can (Emerald Green), 1965" by pop artist Warhol, according to court documents released by the DoJ.

They also include a drawing by American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as a high-end real estate in Paris, officials said Wednesday.

The move is "just the latest demonstration of (the DoJ's) longstanding commitment to tracing, seizing, and forfeiting assets acquired through grand corruption," said US Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski.

The US has so far returned or helped Malaysia recover more than $1 billion in funds and assets lost in the scam.

More than $4.5 billion originally meant to fund state investments was looted from 1MDB between 2009 and 2015, according to US investigators.

A young Malaysian businessman, Low Taek Jho, allegedly played a central role in the fraud and used much the money to buy luxurious homes and art and invest in Hollywood movies.

In October, he struck a settlement with US officials to forfeit assets worth $700 million including a Beverly Hills hotel and a private jet, as part of efforts to claw back stolen cash.

Malaysia's ex-prime minister Najib Razak lost power at 2018 elections in large part due to his alleged involvement in the scandal, and is now on trial. He denies wrongdoing.

Low also maintains his innocence, and his current whereabouts are unknown.