Malaysian tycoon wanted by U.S. in 1MDB scandal fights back

Jho Low contacted Mahathir's adviser last week to seek immunity: Report

An estimated $4.5bn was misappropriated from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, the USA justice department alleged.

A Malaysian-Chinese born on the island of Penang whose grandfather was born in southern China's Guangdong, Low describes himself on his website Jho-Low.com as a "global investor and philanthropist" with experience in many companies, financings and projects in media, entertainment, retailing, hospitality and real estate.

Malaysian fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho has maintained his innocence after the United States Department of Justice charged him in court over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

News reports yesterday said former senior Goldman Sachs banker in Asia Tim Leissner pleaded guilty to U.S. bribery and money laundering charges. Prosecutors charge that Malaysian officials stole billions from the fund to buy property, art and other items including investments in movies such as The Wolf of Wall Street.

Between 2009 and 2014, Leissner and Ng reportedly leveraged on Low's closeness with the officials through the promise and payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes. He's been ordered to forfeit $43.7 million.

The scandal has already had major political ramifications in Malaysia, where Najib in 2015 sacked his attorney general and a deputy prime minister for demanding answers about 1MDB.

The filing of criminal charges in the matter was a rare move against senior executives of a major US bank in the decade since the financial crisis. "Low simply asks that the public keep an open mind regarding this case until all of the evidence comes to light, which he believes will vindicate him", a spokesman for Low, through his legal team, said in a statement on Thursday in response to the indictment.

Jho Low contacted Mahathir's adviser last week to seek immunity: Report

Leissner is free on a US$20 million bond and pleaded guilty before a United States judge in August, in Brooklyn Federal Court.

In a speech past year in Washington, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions denounced the scandal as "kleptocracy at its worst".

Low is seeking immunity in exchange for assistance in finding assets linked to the scandal-ridden fund, Daim said in the report published Wednesday, adding that the government hasn't been swayed.

The department said Low's close relationships with high-ranking government officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi were central to the scheme, including his relationship with a high-ranking Malaysian government official who had authority to approve 1MDB business decisions, named by the DOJ as "Malaysian Official #1", or MO1. "Low held no formal position at 1MDB, nor was he ever employed by Goldman Sachs, or the Governments of Malaysia or Abu Dhabi", the statement posted on Low's personal website said. A parliamentary inquiry found many irregularities but had no mandate to prosecute.

Najib and his former treasury chief were charged last week with criminal breach of trust involving 6.64 billion ringgit ($1.6 billion), charges that came on top of 32 earlier counts of corruption, breach of trust and money laundering that Najib faces in connection with the 1MDB scandal.

Najib has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and has consistently denied wrongdoing.

Mustian reported from NY.

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