KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Indonesia handed over to Malaysia on Monday a $250 million luxury yacht, impounded earlier this year as part of an international hunt for assets purchased with billions of dollars allegedly siphoned off from state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad thanked Indonesian President Joko Widodo, in a video posted on his Facebook page, for facilitating the yacht’s handover.
Malaysian authorities are seeking to arrest Low Taek Jho, the financier who allegedly bought the Equanimity, a 91 meter (300-foot) yacht registered in the Cayman Islands. Lawsuits have identified him as a central figure in the 1MDB scandal, but his whereabouts are unknown.
Low, through a spokesman from his legal team, has described the handing over of the yacht to Malaysia as illegal and politically motivated.
“The Mahathir regime’s illegal act today, ignoring court rulings in legal proceedings in the U.S. and Indonesia, prove he has no interest in a fair and just process,” he said in a statement Monday.
Low has previously denied any wrongdoing. His Malaysian passport has been revoked and an arrest warrant issued.
Mahathir said any claimants to the yacht should provide proof that it belonged to them, and where they got the money to pay for it.
“We believe the ship is owned by the Malaysian government because it was bought by Malaysian money that was stolen by certain parties,” Mahathir said.
The yacht was handed over to Malaysian authorities at the Indonesian island of Batam, and was expected to reach Malaysia’s Port Klang “within 48 hours”, a spokesman for Mahathir said in a text message.
Mahathir ousted his predecessor and former protege Najib Razak in an election in May, and immediately launched an investigation into 1MDB.
The fund, founded by Najib, is at the center of money-laundering probes in at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore. Najib, who has been questioned by Malaysian anti-graft officers and is barred from leaving the country, has denied any wrongdoing related to 1MDB.
Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng told reporters the government planned to take inventory of items one the yacht and open the vessel for public viewing, before eventually selling it “at the highest price”.
Lim said Malaysia’s attorney-general was expected to issue a statement on Tuesday regarding the status of the yacht and address concerns that it could affect investigations by the United States Department of Justice (DoJ).
The DoJ has sought to take custody of the Equanimity, after it was seized by Indonesia in February at the request of U.S. authorities as part of a multi-billion dollar anti-kleptocracy investigation into 1MDB.
A total of $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.
Malaysia is trying to recover up to $1.7 billion in assets, including the yacht, that the DoJ has alleged were bought with stolen 1MDB funds.
Reporting by Joseph Sipalan and Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore