U.S. Seeks to Recover Approximately $38 Million Allegedly Obtained from Corruption Involving Malaysian Sovereign Wealth Fund
The Justice Department announced today the filing of civil forfeiture complaints seeking the forfeiture and recovery of approximately $38 million in assets allegedly associated with an international conspiracy to launder funds misappropriated from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund. Combined with civil forfeiture complaints filed in July 2016 seeking more than $1 billion in assets, and civil forfeiture complaints filed in June 2017 seeking approximately $540 million in assets, this case represents the largest action brought under the Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. Assets now subject to forfeiture in this case total approximately $1.7 billion.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Nicola T. Hanna of the Central District of California, Assistant Director Robert Johnson of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division and Chief Don Fort of the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement.
According to the complaints, from 2009 through 2015, more than $4.5 billion in funds belonging to 1MDB were allegedly misappropriated by high-level officials of 1MDB and their associates. 1MDB was created by the government of Malaysia to promote economic development in Malaysia through global partnerships and foreign direct investment, and its funds were intended to be used for improving the well-being of the Malaysian people.
“The complaints filed today demonstrate the Department of Justice’s steadfast commitment to recovering assets traceable to the alleged multi-billion dollar looting of Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “The Criminal Division and our law enforcement partners are committed to protecting the U.S. financial system and ensuring that the proceeds of overseas corruption and other criminal conduct find no safe haven here.”
“These new lawsuits target assets collected by corrupt officials and their associates through a massive scheme that stole billions of dollars from the people of Malaysia and laundered the proceeds across the world,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna. “Through a series of cases filed over the past three years, we have pursued a wide variety of assets purchased with stolen 1MDB funds, and so far we have successfully forfeited hundreds of millions of dollars. Collectively, these cases send a strong message that the United States cannot be used as a safe haven or a conduit for money pilfered by corrupt officials.”
“Today’s announcement is a testament to the FBI’s relentless effort to investigate kleptocracy and hold corrupt foreign officials accountable,” said FBI Assistant Director Johnson. “At the onset of this investigation, we promised to work with our foreign and domestic partners to identify and return stolen assets to the Malaysian people. This filing demonstrates our unwavering commitment to keep that promise. We want to thank our partners, both domestic and foreign, for their hard work in helping to bring justice for the Malaysian people. The recovery of these assets is another step in that direction.”
“The investigation into the misappropriation of the 1MDB funds represents a model for international cooperation in significant cross-border money laundering matters, and sends a message that criminals cannot evade law enforcement authorities simply by laundering money through multiple jurisdictions and through a web of shell corporations,” said IRS-CI Chief Fort. “We are proud of the investigative work on this case and the work of our fellow law enforcement agencies in this and other complex financial investigations.”
As alleged in the complaints, the members of the conspiracy – which included officials at 1MDB, their relatives and other associates – diverted more than $4.5 billion in 1MDB funds. Using fraudulent documents and representations, the co-conspirators allegedly laundered the funds through a series of complex transactions and shell companies with bank accounts located in the U.S. and abroad. These transactions allegedly served to conceal the origin, source and ownership of the funds, and ultimately passed through U.S. financial institutions to then be used to acquire and invest in assets located in the U.S. and overseas.
As alleged in the earlier complaints, in 2009, 1MDB officials and their associates embezzled approximately $1 billion that was supposed to be invested to exploit energy concessions purportedly owned by a foreign partner. Instead, the funds were allegedly transferred through shell companies and were used to acquire a number of assets, as set forth in the complaints. The complaints also allege that the co-conspirators misappropriated close to $1.4 billion in funds raised through bond offerings in 2012, and more than $1.2 billion following another bond offering in 2013. The complaints also allege that in 2014, the co-conspirators misappropriated approximately $850 million in 1MDB funds under the guise of repurchasing certain options that had been given in connection with a guarantee of the 2012 bonds.
The complaints filed today in the Central District of California identify additional assets traceable to the 2012 and 2013 bond offerings. These assets include luxury real estate in London, proceeds from the sale of luxury real estate in New York City, and converted equity in a facilities management company headquartered in Kentucky.
The FBI’s International Corruption Squads in New York City and Los Angeles and the IRS-CI are investigating the case. Deputy Chief Woo S. Lee and Trial Attorneys Kyle R. Freeny, Jonathan Baum, Barbara Levy and Joshua L. Sohn of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Kucera and Michael R. Sew Hoy of the Central District of California are prosecuting the case. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs is providing substantial assistance.
The Department also appreciates the significant assistance provided by the Attorney General’s Chambers of Malaysia, the Royal Malaysian Police, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the Attorney General’s Chambers of Singapore, the Singapore Police Force-Commercial Affairs Division, the Office of the Attorney General and the Federal Office of Justice of Switzerland, the judicial investigating authority of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, and the Criminal Investigation Department of the Grand-Ducal Police of Luxembourg.
The Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative is led by a team of dedicated prosecutors in the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, in partnership with federal law enforcement agencies, and often with U.S. Attorney’s Offices, to forfeit the proceeds of foreign official corruption and, where appropriate, to use those recovered assets to benefit the people harmed by these acts of corruption and abuse of office. In 2015, the FBI formed International Corruption Squads across the country to address national and international implications of foreign corruption. Individuals with information about possible proceeds of foreign corruption located in or laundered through the U.S. should contact federal law enforcement or send an email to email@example.com (link sends e-mail) or https://tips.fbi.gov/.
A civil forfeiture complaint is merely an allegation that money or property was involved in or represents the proceeds of a crime. These allegations are not proven until a court awards judgment in favor of the United States.