LOS ANGELES (CN) — The stepson of Malaysia’s former prime minister will forfeit assets worth more than $60 million that he purchased using funds embezzled during the multibillion-dollar looting of a Malaysian state investment fund, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.
The 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund, or 1MDB, was established in 2009 by then-Prime Minister Najib Razak ostensibly to finance development in the southeast Asian nation.
But the fund quickly accumulated billions in debts and U.S. investigators say at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund between 2009 and 2015 and laundered through financial firms across the globe by Najib’s associates.
Public outrage over the massive financial scandal led to the election defeat of Najib’s long-ruling coalition in 2018 and multiple criminal investigations by U.S. and Malaysian authorities.
Prosecutors say Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz received illicit funds from the 1MDB looting and funneled them into his company Red Granite Pictures, which financed Hollywood films including the 2013 Martin Scorsese picture “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Aziz received the funds in 2011 and 2012 and laundered them through banks in the U.S., Switzerland, Singapore and Luxembourg, according to prosecutors.
Under the terms of the settlement announced Wednesday, Aziz will forfeit all assets described in federal forfeiture complaints, including Beverly Hills real estate, a luxury condominium in New York City; proceeds from investments in a Kentucky maintenance company; a luxury London townhome; and a promotional poster for the 1927 motion picture “Metropolis.”
Nick Hanna, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, said federal authorities have recovered more than $1 billion in assets as part of their 1MDB investigations, the largest civil forfeiture in the agency’s history.
“With more than $1 billion forfeited as a result of our 1MDB-related asset forfeiture cases, we continue to shed light on the massive fraud and money laundering scheme that brazenly stole public funds belonging to the people of Malaysia,” Hanna said in a statement. “The high-end properties across the nation that have now been seized and forfeited demonstrate our commitment to preventing corrupt actors from using the United States as a place to hide stolen riches.”
The funds were essentially stolen from the Malaysian people and used to buy hotels, a yacht, artwork, expensive real estate, jewelry and other luxuries, according to a statement by Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department criminal division.
“This forfeiture sends a clear signal that the DOJ will not allow wrongdoers to use the U.S. financial system to launder the proceeds of their illegal activity,” said Rabbitt.
In a Malaysian court hearing last year, Aziz pleaded not guilty to laundering $248 million from the state investment fund.
His mother Rosmah Mansor also has pleaded not guilty to money laundering and tax evasion.
In July, Najib was sentenced to a 12-year prison term for his role in the corruption scandal and was ordered to pay a fine of 210 million ringgit ($49.4 million).
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