Loyal and patriotic Malaysian cannot but feel deep shame and mortification reading the online report this morning of a leading United States newspaper, New York Times, “Billions’ worth of Baubles Could Wind Up in U.S. Hands in 1MDB Case” with the following opening paragraphs:
“You can almost hear Robin Leach narrating the introduction to an episode of ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ by describing a luxury yacht, diamond jewelry, a Picasso painting, and real estate in New York, Beverly Hills and London.
“All those baubles — and much more — may end up in the hands of the federal government as the Justice Department filed its latest asset forfeiture lawsuit in Federal District Court in Los Angeles seeking an additional $540 million in goods obtained from looting a Malaysian investment fund, bringing the total sought to $1.7 billion.
“Prosecutors may not be able to convict the individuals involved in suspect transfers, but an important tool in the federal arsenal lets them seize assets that are tied to foreign corruption, even if none of the criminal conduct took place within this country.
“The complaint details how 1 Malaysia Development Berhad, known as 1MDB, raised money by selling bonds that would help fund development in the country. The Justice Department claims that from 2009 through 2014, over $4.5 billion was diverted to benefit those with ties to Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, who ostensibly oversaw the fund, including as much as $1 billion funneled to accounts he may have controlled.”
Yesterday, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak declared he will no longer issue statements in relation to the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) multi-billion dollar forfeiture suits of 1MDB-linked assets from US$4.5 billion 1MDB international money-laundering kleptocracy.
Najib said this when he was asked to comment on Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein who had slammed the DOJ for its latest suit.
Was Najib distancing or even repudiating what Hishamuddin said in the latter’s second statement on the latest DOJ kleptocratic action to forfeit up to US$1.7 billion of 1MDB-linked assets out of a new total of US$4.5 billon money-laundering scam using American banks?
Hishammuddin challenged the US DOJ to press criminal charges if they have proof of wrongdoing in the 1MDB affair.
But Hishamuddin was not the only Minister to disgrace the Malaysian government and nation with the most inane responses – there was the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan who demanded DOJ to reveal who were the complainants to the DOJ in the first place and the Minister for Communications and Multimedia, Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak who claimed DOJ’s interference with Malaysia’s sovereignty.
All these three Ministers have tertiary education and university degrees, but from their statements, they clearly belong to the cohort of “half-past six Ministers” in the Malaysian Cabinet and provide excellent material for Amir Muhammad’s latest collection of “Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things”.
Rational and thinking Malaysians have reacted to Abdul Rahman’s statement by asking “Why should identity of complainants to DOJ even matter”, unless the monstrous crimes of kleptocracy outlined in the 251-page DOJ kleptocratic suits were a pack of lies – and the Malaysian Government, the Prime Minister and 1MDB are prepared to come upfront to disprove that they were stolen 1MDB billions of dollars and had not been used to finance the lavish lifestyles of the conspirators and their associates at the expense to detriment of the Malaysian people.
In fact, if the DOJ allegations of the kleptocratic money-laundering crimes running into billions of US dollars and defrauding the Malaysian people were true, the country should be honouring those who complained to DOJ and treating them as exemplary national heroes!
And is Salleh suggesting that national sovereignty includes the sovereign right to commit the crimes of international money-laundering?
In fact, the same report in the New York Times today provides answers to the queries and statements by Hishammudin, Salleh and Abdul Rahman if they need an “education” on the DOJ kleptocratic action to forfeit US$1.7 billion 1MDB-linked assets. I refer in particular to the following five paragraphs:
“Asset forfeiture dates back over 200 years, first used to seize pirate ships or goods imported without payment of the proper duties. Today, the law authorizes the government to sue for the item sought to be forfeited, known as an ‘in rem’ proceeding, because it was used for a crime or represents the proceeds of illegal conduct.
“That means the cases sometimes have odd names, like United States v. 92 Buena Vista Avenue, a Supreme Court decision involving a home in New Jersey that the government sought to seize because its purchase was traceable to the proceeds of drug dealing.
“Among the items named in the lawsuits are the rights to ‘Dumb and Dumber To’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ movies financed with funds from 1MDB; a Bombardier jet; a penthouse in the Time Warner Center in New York City; and an apartment in the fashionable Mayfair section of London…
“Unlike a criminal prosecution, a civil asset forfeiture case allows the government to seize only assets that it can trace to the underlying crimes. That puts a premium on following the flow of money, and the complaint goes into great detail in describing how cash flowed out of accounts controlled by 1MDB through banks in Switzerland, Singapore and Luxembourg before reaching the United States and Britain to pay for the assets prosecutors want to seize.
“Even though most of the transactions took place outside the United States, the money laundering statute can be violated by ‘an offense against a foreign nation,’ including bribery, misappropriation or embezzlement in that country. The only requirement is that the proceeds of those crimes pass into or through the United States for the purpose of concealing the source or ownership of the assets. Buying property and jewelry, or even movie rights, can constitute money laundering, so those assets can be seized if the Justice Department can show the transactions hid the source of the funds.”
The DOJ kleptocratic action identifies gifts given to Leonardo DiCaprio by Jho Low and Riza Aziz, Najib’s stepson, who set up the movie production company Red Granite Pictures with 1MDB funds. Among the gifts to DiCaprio, who starred in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which Red Granite financed, were a collage by Jean-Michel Basquiat valued at $9.2 million, a Picasso painting worth $3.2 million and the Oscar statuette won by Marlon Brando in 1955.
The DOJ suit also seeks the return of an 11.72-carat diamond given by Low to his girlfriend at the time, who has been identified as the prominent Australian model Miranda Kerr.
DiCaprio has returned the gifts, perhaps because he had no basis to claim he was an innocent owner to resist the government’s effort to seize them.
Will Miranda Kerr return the gifts?
Even more pertinent to Malaysians is the DOJ disclosure of Jho Low’s gift of a US$27.3 million 22-carat pink diamond necklace to “the wife of MO1”, and whether “the wife of MO1” would return the 22 carat pink diamond necklace?
The Cabinet, at its first meeting tomorrow after the updated and expanded DOJ kleptocratic actions against 1MDB-linked assets, must establish whether Najib’s “no more statements on DOJ” is a “mea culpa” admission of the multi-billion dollar 1MDB kleptocratic money-laundering scandal; as well as take the necessary action to clear or cleanse Malaysia’s infamy and ignominy of being regarded world-wide as a “global kleptocracy”.