Jho Low Family Digs in to Stop 1MDB Asset Seizure by U.S.

Updated on
  • Malaysian financier is at center of worldwide 1MDB probes
  • Relatives seek to replace trustees who refused to fight U.S.

Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho’s family is reaching far and wide to stop the U.S. from seizing $650 million in real estate and business investments the government claims were acquired with funds stolen from his home country.

The family of the businessman known as Jho Low claims the Swiss trustees holding their assets are afraid to fight back against the U.S. for fear of being prosecuted in the global game of investment hide and seek set off by the alleged disappearance of more than $3.5 billion of the $8 billion raised by 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 20:  Mr. Jho Low speaks onstage during Angel Ball 2014 hosted by Gabrielle's Angel Foundation at Cipriani Wall Street on October 20, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Gabrielle's Angel Foundation)

Jho Low at Angel Ball 2014 in New York City.

Photographer: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Four relatives of Low, including his father and brother, now say they will ask courts in the Cayman Islands and New Zealand to replace the Swiss trustees -- so they can avoid having their possessions go to the U.S. by default.

The Justice Department is targeting real estate, investments and art works that were allegedly bought with money siphoned off from the state-owned investment and development fund known as 1MDB.

The Low assets at issue include a $380 million stake in New York’s Park Lane Hotel, a $107-million interest in EMI Music Publishing, a $35-million Bombardier Jet, and a $30-million penthouse at Time Warner Center in New York. The trusts that hold the assets call for application of either New Zealand or Cayman Islands law, according to the family’s filing on Monday.

Paris Hilton

Low, who is known for partying with Hollywood celebrities Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, is also friends with Riza Aziz, a stepson of Malaysia’s prime minister and a producer of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which the U.S. alleges was also funded with stolen money. Low has said he provided consulting to 1MDB that didn’t break any laws, while the fund and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak have both denied wrongdoing.

The U.S. will oppose the Low family’s request to delay a Dec. 12 hearing over whether they can intervene in the forfeiture case, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker in Los Angeles.

Singapore police have identified Low as a “key person of interest” in a money laundering investigation surrounding 1MDB, according to testimony last month in the trial of a former BSI SA banker accused of obstruction of justice.

Other assets the Justice Department says were acquired with stolen 1MDB funds include a $51 million New York penthouse condominium and a $31 million Beverly Hills mansion bought in 2014 by Khadem al Qubaisi, the former managing director of Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Co. Al Qubaisi, who’s also the former chairman of restaurant and nightclub operator Hakkasan Group, received $473 million siphoned from 1MDB in 2012, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Hakkasan Chief Executive Officer Neil Moffitt is fighting the U.S. claim that a $15-million chunk of Beverly Hills real estate he owns was also bought by al Qubaisi with misappropriated Malaysian funds.

“Mr. Moffitt had no involvement in the property at issue in the federal case other than as owner,” his lawyer, Ronald Richards, said. “I expect the forfeiture complaint to be dismissed as the government was unaware of his purchase at the time they filed the forfeiture complaint. He has never been a target or subject of any federal investigation or civil forfeiture action at any time.”

The cases in which the Low family seeks to intervene are 16-cv-05364, 16-cv-05367, 16-cv-05368, 16-cv-05369, 16-cv-05370, 16-cv-05374, 16-cv-05374, 16-cv-05375, 16-cv-05378, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).