The U.S. has sent a team to Bali to reclaim M/Y Equanimity, a yacht seized by Indonesian authorities Feb. 28 in a $4.5 billion fraud case involving Malaysian state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, according to news reports.
Daniel Silitonga, Indonesian deputy director of economic and special crimes in the Central Police Department, said the prosecutors have been in Jakarta for the past week, Malaysian news sources have reported.
“The prosecution team came last week for purposes of legal coordination between Indonesia and the United States,” Silitonga was quoted as saying. He also said the case is now in American hands as the primary investigating authority.
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and Bali investigators boarded the Equanimity after it anchored off Nusa Dua, a five-star hotel enclave, according to news reports, The FBI alleges the 299-foot (91m) yacht had been attempting to evade them in Southeast Asian waters. The Wall Street Journal reports the yacht had disabled its automated identification system (AIS) when passing between the Philippines and Singapore to avoid detection.
An attorney for the yacht crew was reported to have said the AIS was turned off to avoid pirates in the area and was later turned back on. The lawyer said other vessels transiting the area also received piracy warnings from local authorities.
According to the US Department of Justice, the yacht is owned by 36-year-old Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, who is said to be Prime Minister Najib Razak’s confidante and business adviser. Investment fund 1MDB is Najib’s brainchild, according to Malaysian news reports.
The U.S. Justice Department has filed civil lawsuits during the past two years in an effort to recover about $540 million that the department said had been allegedly misappropriated from the fund. The money is intended for economic development in the region. The investigation covers at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.
It is alleged the yacht was bought with $250 million of the money diverted from Malaysian government sources through US financial institutions.
Low issued a statement via a spokesman criticizing the DOJ of “global overreach” after the seizure, according to news reports. His whereabouts is unknown.
Bali police say they have questioned the Equanimity’s captain and some of the crew. The FBI say the captain, a South African, is now a suspect in the fraud case, according to reports.
The crew reportedly remains on board the yacht and are not under arrest. How long their vessel will remain detained is unclear.
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