Malaysia to take possession of 1MDB-linked yacht

The Cayman Island-registered vessel Equanimity, which is reportedly worth some US$250 million and is owned by Jho Low, a former unofficial adviser to the Malaysian fund 1MDB, is pictured here at Benoa harbour on Indonesia's resort island of Bali. (Sonny Tumbelaka / AFP Photo)

Malaysia is making "some arrangement" with Indonesia to take ownership of a luxury yacht linked to a multi-billion-dollar financial scandal, a government spokesman said Sunday.

The Cayman Islands-registered Equanimity, believed to be worth some US$250 million, was seized in February off the Indonesian tourist island of Bali.

The United States (US) Department of Justice alleges in civil lawsuits that huge sums of money were stolen from Malaysia's 1MDB investment fund - set up by former Prime Minister Najib Razak - in a huge fraud and money-laundering scam.

The fund and Najib Razak, who lost an election earlier this year, deny any wrongdoing.

The suits allege US$1.7 billion worth of assets were allegedly bought with the stolen funds, which US officials are seeking to recover.

Those assets include a 300-foot (90-metre) yacht bought by Jho Low, a former unofficial adviser to 1MDB.

"Some arrangements are being made with the Indonesian authorities responsible (to take over the yacht)," a spokesman for Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's office said.

"We will announce more once we have finalised the details," he added, declining to elaborate further.

A senior maritime official familiar with the talks said that the super yacht was in Indonesian waters off Batam near Singapore.

Bilateral ties between Malaysia and Indonesia are close with Mahathir visiting Jakarta in June, making it his first official tour of the region after a stunning election victory in May over Najib Razak.

Malaysia's anti-corruption authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Jho Low, accused of being a key figure in the scandal surrounding sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Low, a flamboyant playboy known for partying with Hollywood A-listers, is a close associate of Najib Razak and allegedly conspired with him to loot the investment vehicle.

He was believed to have been sailing around Asia on the luxury yacht before it was seized.

Low - full name Low Taek Jho - whose exact whereabouts are unknown, condemned Malaysia's action to take over the yacht saying it was "politically motivated".

"The action of the Mahathir government in illegitimately taking this asset shows just how quickly the rule of law disappears in Mahathir's regime," according to a statement issued by his legal team.

"Actions like this make it increasingly clear that there is no jurisdiction where the issues in this case can be subject to a fair hearing thanks to a global media circus fuelled by politically motivated parties whose aim is to convict Mr Low in public arena." - AFP