Najib Razak may not be Malaysia’s prime minister anymore, but the trail from a $700 million heist that he left during his tenure is still being followed by investigators globally. The case resulted in the arrest of alleged co-conspirator Khadem Al Qubaisi of the ill-famed 1MDB scandal. Qubaisi – a UAE citizen who once headed the Abu Dhabi-based International Petroleum Investment Company – has been jailed for 15 years in the emirate. More than 10 years later, the ongoing investigations into the substantial abuse of power, high-level corruption, and international money laundering have led to the seizure of hundreds of millions of dollars but not the prosecution of some of the biggest players.
Censoring The Kleptocrats
A documentary film that was released last November, The Kleptocrats, which is based on the world’s biggest heist – the 1MDB scandal – is facing suppression from fugitive businessman Jho Low’s lawyers. The film shows how the financial scandal unfolded by featuring interviews with investigative journalists from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Hollywood Reporter who worked on the case. However, a London-based law firm – Schillings – working for Low has been pushing for its censorship by sending letters to a number of distributors and platforms asking for the removal of the film from their catalogs on the grounds that it defames its client. Low, one of the main people accused in the case, allegedly stole funds from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund and then invested a portion of the loot in a 2013 Hollywood blockbuster, The Wolf of Wall Street.
The biggest white-collar heist
The drama began in 2009 when Low, a hotshot businessman from Malaysia, orchestrated a joint venture between 1MDB and PetroSaudi LLC to siphon off $700 million from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund immediately after it was set up.
1MDB insiders weren’t oblivious to this and, in fact, forged documents to make the deal appear legitimate. One of the 277,000 emails shared by Xavier Andre Justo, a former Swiss banker who worked with PetroSaudi, showed Low received approval from 1MDB for a $1 billion loan. However, the loan hadn’t been approved by the Central Bank of Malaysia – Negara Bank. 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy’s role was that of an equal accomplice who gave out false bank statements pertaining to its subsidiary accounts at the Singapore branch of BSI Bank. Kanda denies any such wrongdoing and the allegations that followed.
A report by The Wall Street Journal claimed that 1MDB purchased power assets at double the normal price. The purchases were made via Genting Group in 2012, which then donated the money to a foundation controlled by none other than the Malaysian prime minister himself. The funds were then used by Razak to fund his campaign for the 2013 elections, which he eventually won by a simple majority.
The drama began in 2009 when Low, a hotshot businessman from Malaysia, orchestrated a joint venture between 1MDB and PetroSaudi LLC to siphon off $700 million from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund immediately after it was set up
The Genting Group is back in the news for renting out Low’s luxury yacht to Kylie Jenner for her 22nd birthday celebration. The Chinese businessman’s yacht, formerly known as Equanimity but now called Tranquility, was later seized by the Malaysian authorities for allegedly being purchased with funds embezzled from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund. Sold to the Genting Group, the yacht is now chartered by the rich and famous for a whopping RM5.5 million (US$1.3 million) a week.
It was claimed that the $700 million in question was transferred to Razak’s bank accounts at AmBank and Affin Bank. However, six of Razak’s accounts were frozen for investigation, putting 1MDB under probe as well. Nevertheless, it was later confirmed by investigators that the firm didn’t play any role in the funds transferred to the then-prime minister’s account. Instead, it was concluded that the funds came from donations made by contributors.
The many beneficiaries of the 1MDB financial scam included the cast, director and producers of The Wolf of Wall Street. In June 2017, a new investigation revealed that the project received money siphoned from 1MDB that had been invested in a film production house, Red Granite Group, which was founded by Riza Aziz, the stepson of Najib Razak. The funds were used to produce the movie and pay the actors, including Leonardo di Caprio. Low emerged as the link between the siphoning of 1MDB funds and its use in the production of the movie, which credits Low at the end with “Special thanks.”
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By January 2019, the French authorities had confiscated €150 million worth of assets in the possession of the former chairman of Aabar Investments PJS Ltd, Khadem Al Qubaisi. A previous investigation had discovered that approximately $850 million – split into three transactions – flowed into a British Virgin Island registered company, with a name disguising a firm that is in reality controlled by the IPIC – as per wire transfer documents. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan is the chairman of IPIC’s board of directors. He also owns the City Football Group consisting of Manchester City FC, New York City FC and Melbourne City FC. Al Qubaisi and another employee of IPIC, Mohammed Badawy al Husseiny, were accused of embezzling Malaysian development funds. However, Al Qubaisi has claimed that as a former top aide to Sheikh Mansour, deputy prime minister of the UAE and the brother of Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, he had just done what he was told to do by the royals.
Besides Qubaisi, former Malaysian premier Najib Razak, his wife Rosmah Mansor and stepson Riza Aziz are being prosecuted for an alleged criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power in relation to the 1MDB scandal. After Goldman and Sachs, the US Justice Department’s probe has turned to Deutsche Bank, which it alleges has links to the scandal. However, with many of the key actors of the world’s biggest financial fraud still evading justice, like Low, many questions relating to the 1MDB scandal remain unanswered.