DR Mahathir Mohamad said the US Department of Justice (DoJ) has every right to take legal action by seizing US$540 million (RM2.3 billion) in assets believed to be bought with money stolen from state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), as the crimes were committed in the United States.
In an hour-long interview with Facebook users today, Mahathir alluded to a Malaysian who might have bought massive amounts of assets and property as part of a money-laundering scheme.
“When people steal money or obtain massive amounts of money by, for example, selling drugs, they will want to clean up the money to make it as though they obtained it legitimately.
“They might go to another country and buy up property. So, what once was illicit money is now property. By doing this, he can avoid having too much money. So he would buy up all these expensive property in America.
“So the authorities in the US have every right to act. This is a crime that occurred in America. This is not a crime that occurred in Malaysia,” Mahathir said.
Part of the seized assets in the DoJ suit included a Picasso painting that was given to actor Leonardo DiCaprio and the rights to two Hollywood films.
The seizures were part of the DoJ’s long-running case to investigate alleged conspiracy to launder misappropriated funds purloined from 1MDB, which was set up by Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2009 to promote economic development.
Najib, however, has denied any wrongdoing.
“If there is a crime within the government, it is the responsibility of a whistleblower to report the matter. If not, the cheating will go on forever. The MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission) can’t act if the whistleblower withholds information.
“The Department of Justice acted because the crime occurred in America, involving American money, American banks and American property,” Dr Mahathir said.
“We need a government that is concerned with the people’s welfare. A government that does not simply abuse the country’s finances and spend money in the billions.
“All that money has to be accounted for, even if you can’t feel the effects of the abuses, there are many people who would have to pay for that debt. I was part of the government and I know that every cent has to be accounted for and settled.”
The DoJ in their civil action suits alleged that more than US$4.5 billion in total was taken from 1MDB by high-level fund officials and their associates.
In the latest suit filed yesterday, Penang-born tycoon Jho Low is accused of using 1MDB-linked money to buy properties that the DoJ wants to seize.
In an immediate response, Malaysia’s Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali described the DoJ’s latest suit as a repeat of last year’s US$1 billion suit, and expressed frustration that US authorities had not alerted it of this latest action.
He said his office had yet to be provided with proof that money had been siphoned from 1MDB.
Meanwhile, Putrajaya in a statement said the latest DoJ suits were “unproven allegations”.
THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT