Thursday, August 4, 2016

Millions or Billions got to Malaysia’s leader

US rejects account of how millions got to Malaysia’s leader

BANGKOK — A US Justice Department complaint filed in federal court this week directly contradicts repeated assertions by the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, about the origins and purpose of hundreds of millions of dollars that ended up in his personal bank accounts.
While Najib and other Malaysian officials have insisted that the money was a gift from an unidentified Saudi donor, the Justice Department said that it was stolen from a Malaysian government investment fund that Najib oversaw. Najib has said he never received any money from the fund.
The court filing, one of several complaints filed Wednesday in a federal money-laundering investigation, provides the first official public documentation of transactions that challenge Najib’s version of events in a scandal that has battered his government for the past year.
The revelations could undermine his credibility and give new ammunition to a movement to force him from office.
However, he maintains firm control over his governing party and has stifled opposition with the firing of critics from party posts, the closing of online news outlets, and the criminal prosecution of social media detractors and political opponents.
Najib has acknowledged receiving the money but said he broke no laws and took nothing for personal gain. He told reporters Thursday that his government would “fully cooperate” with the Justice Department action.
“Allow the process to take its course,” he said, “but I want to say categorically that we are serious about good governance.”
A spokesman for Najib, reached late Thursday, said the prime minister had not changed his position that the money he received was a gift from a Saudi donor and that he gave most of it back because he did not need it.
While the Justice Department complaint is an allegation, not evidence, it outlines in detail how huge sums were diverted from the government fund, routed through bank accounts in various countries, and then spent on high-end real estate, artwork, gambling, and various luxury goods by Najib’s stepson, friends, and associates.
The court filing seeks to recover more than $1 billion in assets bought with money that prosecutors say was stolen from the fund, known as 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB.
Those assets, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said Wednesday, “are just a portion of the more than $3 billion that was stolen from 1MDB and laundered through American financial institutions in violation of United States law.”
The case, she said, should be seen as a sign of the country’s “firm commitment to fighting international corruption” and the department’s determination “to protect the American financial system from being used as a conduit for corruption.”
The United States is among several governments, including Malaysia, Singapore, and Switzerland, that have investigated 1MDB.
The inquiries began last year after an investigative report in The New York Times traced the purchases of about $150 million in residential properties and artwork in the United States to relatives or associates of Najib.
While the federal complaint does not identify Najib by name, it cites $731 million in funds that came from 1MDB that were deposited into accounts belonging to a government official identified as “Malaysian Official 1.”
However, Najib is clearly recognizable in the descriptions and actions attributed to that official.
Large transactions by “Malaysian Official 1” described in the complaint are identical to those previously acknowledged by Najib. The complaint describes the official’s role in managing the fund, which matches Najib’s role. And it says “Malaysian Official 1” is a relative of Riza Aziz, Najib’s stepson.
A person with knowledge of the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, confirmed that “Malaysian Official 1” was Najib. The complaint does name Aziz, and a family friend, Jho Low, who helped establish the fund.
Najib’s advisers have said Najib received about $1 billion in 2013, most of it donations from a member of the Saudi royal family to help him fight a tough election campaign that year.
That explanation of a Saudi gift was repeated by Najib’s attorney general, Mohamed Apandi Ali, who closed a government investigation into the money in January saying that he had found no evidence of wrongdoing.
On Thursday, Apandi issued a statement asserting that no investigation had found evidence that 1MDB funds had been misappropriated.
The Saudi gift was also confirmed by Saudi Arabia. Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in April that Najib had received a “genuine donation” from a Saudi donor. He did not specify the amount or provide any details.
A Saudi Foreign Ministry spokesman did not respond Friday to requests for comment.
The complaint says that $681 million transferred to Najib in 2013 came from a Singapore bank account held in the name of Tanore Finance Corp. It says the money originated from $3 billion in bonds underwritten for 1MDB by Goldman Sachs.
Justice about to be served on those who stole BILLIONS  from M'sian funds??? The plot thickens!

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