KUALA LUMPUR: Indonesia has agreed to hand over to Malaysia a US$250 million luxury yacht linked to a corruption scandal at a Malaysian state fund that it impounded in Bali earlier this year, Indonesian authorities said on Saturday (Aug 4).
The Cayman Islands-flagged Equanimity was seized in February at the request of US authorities as part of a multi-billion dollar corruption investigation launched by the Department of Justice (DOJ) related to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
An Indonesian court ruling in April declared that the yacht was wrongfully impounded and should be released to its owners.
Indonesian police seized the boat again in July following a formal request for legal assistance from the United States. Indonesian police said they would hand the yacht over to Malaysia but did not specify when.
“The yacht will be handed over at the border between Indonesia and Malaysia’s waters,” Daniel Silitonga, the deputy for economic and special crimes, told Reuters over a text message.
“We have to maintain the good relations between the two countries,” he said, adding that the yacht is currently on the waters close to the border of Singapore and the Indonesian island of Batam.
A source had also told Reuters on Friday that the decision to hand the yacht to Malaysia was reached following a personal request made by new Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Mahathir’s office did not reply to a Reuters request for comment.
Mahathir, 93, visited Indonesia in June, his first official visit in the region after returning to power in a surprise election win over Najib Razak.
1MDB, founded by Najib, is at the center of money-laundering probes in at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore. A total of US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, according to civil lawsuits filed by the DOJ. Najib has denied wrongdoing.
Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho is seen as a central figure in the scandal. According to the lawsuits, Low used proceeds diverted from 1MDB to procure Equanimity, a 300-feet yacht registered in the Cayman Islands.
The US$250 million vessel is said to have an interior clad in marble and gold leaf, a spa and sauna, a 20-metre swimming pool on deck, a movie theater, a lift and a helipad.
Malaysian authorities are seeking to arrest Low, whose whereabouts are unknown. His Malaysian passport was revoked and an arrest warrant has been issued against him.
“POLITICALLY DRIVEN ACTIONS”
In a statement issued through his lawyer, James Haggerty, Low said: “The action of (Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s) government in illegitimately taking this asset shows just how quickly the rule of law disappears in Mahathir’s regime.
“It is a violation of an Indonesian law and court decision by a politically motivated Malaysian government bent on advancing its own political agenda with little regard to existing court rulings or basic legal rights.”
In the statement, Low also said that Mahathir’s “politically driven actions” go against recent US court orders.
“The US Department of Justice has argued that it is critical that they have possession to ensure the asset retains its value until a fair court hearing can determine final ownership and the rights of all the parties involved.
“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 the public arena,” the statement said.