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Indonesian court orders Equanimity returned to owner

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An Indonesian court has ruled that the seizure of M/Y Equanimity, a 300-foot Oceanco reportedly worth $250 million, was invalid and ordered the vessel be returned to its owner.

Indonesian police had seized the vessel off Bali on Feb. 28 in a joint operation with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. The seizure took place at the request of the U.S. Justice Department, which alleges that the yacht is among assets purchased by Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, using money stolen in a $4.5 billion fraud case involving Malaysian state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

The Bali police had planned to hand over the confiscated yacht to the U.S. authorities, who intended to sell it, but the company claiming legal ownership of the yacht, Equanimity (Cayman) Ltd., a trust controlled by Low, took the matter to court in Indonesia, citing legal flaws. The court ruled that the seizure was invalid.

“We declare the confiscation by police as invalid and legally baseless,” Judge Ratmoho said at the mid-April hearing in South Jakarta District Court, according to news reports. The seizure should have been carried out “under the reciprocal legal assistance framework as stipulated by the 2006 law, which gives the mandate to the law and human rights ministry,” and not the police, Ratmoho said.

Ratmoho also said it has not been proven that the owner of the yacht committed a crime, therefore there should not be any confiscation. The ruling cannot be appealed.

Following the Equanimity’s seizure in February, Indonesian police and FBI agents searched the vessel and its computers, and questioned dozens of crew members. The boat had remained in Bali with crew on board while the case moved through the courts. After the ruling, Indonesian police said they would soon turn over the Cayman Islands-flagged yacht to its owner.

The U.S. Justice Department alleges Low, who is said to be Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak’s confidante and business adviser, is a central player in the fraud case involving 1MDB, a fund set up by Razak in 2009 for economic development in the region. 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 siphoned from the fund and laundered through Switzerland, Singapore, Luxembourg and the U.S. The case is the focus of investigations in several countries. Both IMDB and Najib have denied wrongdoing and said they would cooperate with any lawful international investigation.

Along with the yacht, the U.S. Justice Department seeks recovery of other assets allegedly linked to 1MDB funds, including more than $5 million worth of diamond jewelry Low gave his then-girlfriend, actress Miranda Kerr; a New York hotel and other real estate in London, New York and Beverly Hills; a $107 million interest in EMI Music Publishing; and a $35 million Bombardier jet.

After the seizure, Low issued a statement via a spokesman accusing the  U.S. Justice Department of “global overreach.” His whereabouts remains unknown.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. government has filed a civil asset forfeiture case against Equanimity, which means it cannot be sold until the case is resolved. To take possession of the boat, the government must prove it was bought with stolen money. All asset forfeitures tied to the 1MDB case are technically on hold, because the U.S. government asked for a temporary stay while it completes a parallel criminal investigation into the 1MDB affair and all related dealings, the Journal reported.

To read the Journal story, click here.

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