US returns $300 million in stolen funds to Malaysia

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The U.S. has returned $300 million to Malaysia that prosecutors say was stolen in a multibillion-dollar corruption scheme, authorities announced Tuesday.

The money comes from assets forfeited last year by a financier, Jho Low, in a Los Angeles federal settlement. The settlement covered assets that included a Manhattan penthouse, a Beverly Hills mansion, a Beverly Hills boutique hotel, a luxury jet and paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet.

Low and his family agreed to forfeit more than $700 million in assets and to date, the U.S. has returned or assisted Malaysia in recovering more than $600 million, according to a U.S. Department of Justice statement.

Low, who is also known as Low Taek Jho, didn’t acknowledge any wrongdoing in the civil settlement. However, he remains a fugitive from criminal charges filed in New York that accuse him of bribery and money laundering.

Low was a consultant for a Malaysian state fund. Prosecutors allege that he used fund money for bribes and kickbacks to foreign officials, to pay for luxury real estate, art and jewelry in the United States and to help finance Hollywood movies, including “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

“The repatriation of these stolen funds to the citizens of Malaysia is the result of the tireless efforts of prosecutors and federal agents to prevent foreign kleptocrats and their associates from using the United States as a playground where they can enjoy the fruits of their pilfered wealth,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in the statement.

The fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, was set up in 2009 by then-Prime Minister Najib Razak to promote economic development. It relied primarily on debt to fund investment and economic development projects and was overseen by senior Malaysian government officials, according to court records.

U.S. investigators allege at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib’s associates.

Public anger over the corruption allegations contributed to the shocking election defeat of Najib’s long-ruling coalition in May 2018. Najib himself is facing corruption charges for allegedly misappropriating money from the fund.

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