'Asset hunt may see more charges'

Mohd Azam Shah Yaacob

THE Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s effort to recover assets procured with monies laundered from 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) may result in more charges being brought against Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

MACC Deputy Chief Commissioner (operations) Datuk Seri Azam Baki, in not discounting this possibility, said the four charges levelled at the former prime minister (on Thursday) were just predicate offences in the 1MDB scandal.

“The number of charges may increase based on ‘discoveries’ and ‘detection’ of other assets abroad that were bought using 1MDB funds.

“The four charges of abuse of power were on the RM2.6 billion transfer to his personal bank account.

“There is this other side of investigations which involve assets abroad... they are two separate matters,” he said, indicating that several other individuals would be charged with offences linked to 1MDB.

Many of the assets MACC is hoping to recover are those which authorities in the United States have moved to seize.

The commission said it would seek to recover the current value of the assets if, for some reason, they could not be returned to Malaysia.

Among assets it is targeting is Pablo Picasso’s Nature Morte au Crane de Taureau, which was a gift to Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio. It is estimated to be worth US$3.28 million.

Authorities have established that the gift, which came with the note “Dear Leonardo DiCaprio, Happy belated birthday! This gift is for you”, was acquired on Jan 2, 2014 with funds diverted from 1MDB’s 2013 bond sale.

MACC is also seeking to recover several other renowned artworks believed to have been acquired with laundered 1MDB monies, including pieces by Vincent Van Gogh and a Claude Monet painting, altogether estimated to be worth RM400 million.

Also included is the RM143 million Bombardier Global 5000 aircraft, belonging to fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, who is at the centre of the 1MDB scandal.

Azam said the commission had, between Sept 18 and 20, met the US Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation again, adding that it had applied to recover profits from movies produced with 1MDB funds, including The Wolf of Wall Street.

Other claims filed by MACC through mutual legal assistance (MLA) are on assets scattered in several countries, including the US, Switzerland and Singapore.

The assets and movie profits come up to about RM3.98 billion.

“One of our investigation’s objectives is to recover assets abroad, which were allegedly purchased using 1MDB misappropriated funds. To recover these assets, we need assistance. We have filed applications via MLA to the respective governments.

“The Indonesian government had earlier returned the super yacht, Equanimity, (in August) to Malaysia.

“It was believed to have been purchased using 1MDB funds, so we hope to recover the assets or recoup monies of equal value to them,” he said after the MACC360 programme on Bernama Radio yesterday.

Azam said foreign authorities had been assisting the commission in recording statements of witnesses abroad.

“We do not need their (witnesses) attendance in the trial... we only need the documentation (statement) that was recorded by these authorities.”

MACC’s investigations into the 1MDB affair saw prosecutors levelling four charges of abuse of power at Najib, involving RM2.3 billion, on Thursday. He pleaded not guilty to all charges and was allowed bail.

To a question on documents Najib posted on his social media accounts to defend himself against the alleged illicit RM2.6 billion transfer to his account, Azam said investigators “had even more documents” on the 1MDB case.

“MACC investigations are based on authentic and original documents that were acquired, not plucked from social media,” he said, adding that MACC had, at no point, closed investigations into the 1MDB case. © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd