Federal police are investigating whether ill-gotten gains connected with Malaysia’s multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal, which has seen the country’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, accused of funnelling $US1 billion through his bank account, have been stashed in Australia.
AFP officers are assisting at least one of the three known authorities — the Swiss, the Americans and the Singaporeans — that are investigating the fate of $US3.5bn allegedly looted from 1MDB, Malaysia’s sovereign-wealth fund.
The move will add to pressure on Mr Najib, who although domestically secure appeared to have turned towards China as an international ally after July last year, when the US unveiled its probe into the scandal as part of the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative run by its Department of Justice. Mr Najib has consistently denied doing anything wrong.
He has explained the vast sum of money that flowed through his account at AmBank, a Malaysian associate of Australia’s ANZ, as a donation from a Saudi prince.
An AFP spokeswoman said the force was “evaluating” whether any Australian citizens, residents or companies had breached proceeds-of-crime laws.
“The AFP is assisting foreign law-enforcement partners in their investigations,” she said.
“Given this matter is the subject of evaluation, it is not appropriate to comment further.”
About $1.3bn in assets has so far been frozen by the US DOJ, including the proceeds of Hollywood film Wolf of Wall Street; modern art, including a van Gogh; and luxury properties in New York, Los Angeles and London.
Most of the assets frozen by the US are linked to Mr Najib’s right-hand-man at 1MDB, the party-loving Malaysian businessman Jho Low, who is alleged to be the mastermind of the fraud.
Last month, Mr Low’s family failed in a bid to stave off the DOJ proceeding long enough for them to launch legal action enabling them to take control of trusts in the Cayman Islands and New Zealand that own some of the assets.
Another figure linked to the 1MDB scandal, convicted Singaporean banker Yeo Jiaewei, has been named in court in Singapore as accumulating a $6 million Australian property portfolio.
Yeo, who worked as a wealth manager at the Singapore branch of Swiss bank BSI, is believed to own a $1.3m apartment on the Gold Coast. He has been sentenced to 30 months’ jail for tampering with witnesses to hide his illicit wealth and conceal his ties to Mr Low. Charges of money laundering are to be heard in April.
1MDB was set up by Mr Najib in 2009 “to drive sustainable economic development by forging strategic global partnerships and promoting FDI (foreign direct investment)”.
The US DOJ alleges its pillaging at the hands of Mr Low and others began within months.