SINGAPORE: Singapore revealed Thursday it had seized nearly $180 million in assets through its investigations into suspected fraud and money-laundering related to scandal-tainted Malaysian state fund 1MDB.
It added that half those assets were linked to Low Taek Jho, a Malaysian businessman and a close family friend of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The joint statement by Singapore’s central bank, police and attorney-general is the first time authorities revealed asset amounts or identified a key figure since launching investigations last year.
The timing of the statement appeared prompted by the US Justice Department’s move Wednesday to seize more than $1 billion in assets allegedly bought with money pilfered from 1MDB — the largest seizure yet under a US anti-kleptocracy initiative.
The Singapore assets totalled Sg$240 million ($178 million) worth of bank accounts and “properties”. The statement said Sg$120 million of that belonged to Low or his immediate family.
The US filing said Low laundered hundreds of millions of dollars in diverted 1MDB funds into the United States to fund luxury purchases, while also accusing Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz and other officials of similar actions.
The assets targeted in the United States include fine art, high-end real estate, a business jet and royalties from the 2013 financial crime caper “The Wolf of Wall Street” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
The film was produced by a company owned by Riza using more than $100 million syphoned from 1MDB, according to the US Justice Department.
Both Najib and 1MDB vehemently deny wrongdoing.
Singapore has said it will not allow its respected financial system to be abused by the corrupt, and in May it kicked out Switzerland’s BSI Bank over “gross misconduct” linked to 1MDB.
Swiss financial regulators later dissolved the bank for similar reasons.
The Singapore authorities also said investigations found Singapore-based DBS Bank, Standard Chartered Bank’s Singapore Branch and Swiss-based UBS had exhibited “undue delay in detecting and reporting suspicious transactions.”
The lapses “will be met by firm regulatory actions,” it said, giving no details.
It also noted lapses by Swiss bank Falcon PBS, saying it was still investigating them.
An ex-BSI banker and another man have been charged in a Singapore court for various offences and several others are being questioned.