Sunday 26 May 2019

Mastermind behind 1MDB looting has fled, Malaysian authorities say

Police have been pursuing Low Taek Jho since investigations were re-opened into the fraud case.

Demonstrators hold portraits of Jho Low illustrated as a pirate during a protest in Kuala Lumpur (AP)
Demonstrators hold portraits of Jho Low illustrated as a pirate during a protest in Kuala Lumpur (AP)

By Eileen Ng

Fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, a suspect in the looting of Malaysian state investment fund 1MDB, has fled Macau to an unknown destination, police said.

Malaysian authorities have been pursuing Low, known just as Jho Low, since a new government reopened investigations into the scandal.

1MDB was set up by former leader Najib Razak but it accumulated billions in debts, and authorities in the US, Switzerland and several other countries are investigating.

Riza Aziz, right, stepson of Malaysian former PM Najib Razak, arrives at Anti-Corruption Agency in Putrajaya (AP)

National police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said Macau authorities informed him two days ago that Low had fled the territory, but did not say where he went.

Malaysia cancelled Low’s passport, but Mr Fuzi said Low could have several travel documents, making it tougher to trace him. Interpol has issued an arrest notice for Low at Malaysia’s request, and the police chief said he hoped to soon get news about Low’s whereabouts.

US prosecutors allege that Low was a central figure in looting and laundering at least 4.5 billion dollars (£3.4 billion) from the fund. A friend of Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz, Low had no official role at 1MDB but had considerable influence over its dealings and was often in contact with Najib, according to the US justice department.

Swiss attorney-general Michael Lauber said that the scandal could involve an estimated seven billion dollars (£5.8 billion) in fraud, far greater than the US figure.

Malaysia’s former deputy PM Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, center, speaks to media outside Anti-Corruption Agency in Putrajaya (AP)

A statement issued by his office after Mr Lauber’s meeting in Kuala Lumpur with his Malaysian counterpart Tommy Thomas said Switzerland has initiated proceedings against six people, not including Najib, and two private banks.

Najib was charged last week with criminal breach of trust and abuse of power, making him one of the few south-east Asian leaders to be prosecuted after losing office.

Anger over the 1MDB saga contributed to the surprise defeat of Najib’s long-ruling coalition in May 9 elections, ushering in Malaysia’s first change of power since its independence from Britain in 1957.

Najib denies any wrongdoing and has accused the new government of pursuing a vendetta against him. Police have also seized jewellery and valuables valued at more than 1.1 billion ringgit (£205 million) from properties linked to Najib.

Press Association

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