KUALA LUMPUR, July 22 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s allies are behind the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) lawsuit seeking to recover more than US$1 billion in assets bought with money allegedly embezzled from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), minister Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak claimed.
In a blog post yesterday, the communications and multimedia minister wrote that he was made to understand that “certain people” aligned to the former prime minister had lodged complaints with the US government.
“From our understanding the action currently being taken is based on complaints made by a third party or certain people aligned to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who are not actually the aggrieved party.
“Under US law, however, class action suits are allowed and the complainant can claim locus standi merely by virtue of the fact that he or she is a Malaysian citizen,” he wrote.
Salleh said the aggrieved party in the case was none other than 1MDB and added that it was problematic for the US to take action based on money allegedly stolen or transferred from the local state investment firm.
“The problem here, though, is that 1MDB itself has said it has not lost any money or no money has been stolen from it.
“If the US had chosen criminal action then the burden of proof would be on the prosecutor to prove guilt.
“In this case, they have chosen civil action and after freezing or confiscating the assets of the accused, the accused will need to prove that the assets were legally and not illegally acquired. This shifts the burden of proof from the prosecutor to the accused,” he wrote.
Dr Mahathir has been one of the main critics of 1MDB and called on Datuk Seri Najib Razak numerous times to step down as prime minister for alleged failures of the investment firm, whose advisory board Najib used to chair. The Finance Ministry said last May that 1MDB’s advisory board would be dissolved, following recommendations from Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Salleh, who is former Sabah chief minister, pointed out yesterday that history has shown that the US can be hasty in its decisions or actions.
The fact that the US Justice Department had said that the suit was filed based on suspicions and that it needed further investigations, he said, showed that the matter was not conclusive.
The US Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit Wednesday seeking the forfeiture and recovery of more than US$1 billion in assets linked to what it described as an “international conspiracy to launder funds misappropriated” from 1MDB, the largest case ever brought by the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.
US prosecutors said more than US$3.5 billion in 1MDB funds were allegedly misappropriated by high-level officials of the local state investment firm and their associates between 2009 and 2015.
The funds allegedly embezzled and laundered into the US were purportedly used to buy luxury properties in New York, Los Angeles and London, paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, a US$35 million jet, as well as to pay for gambling debts in Las Vegas.
Yesterday, 1MDB, in a statement, denied possessing any assets in the US, nor that it benefitted from the transactions described in the suit.
1MDB added that it was never contacted by the US Justice Department or any other foreign agency in relation to investigations to the matter.
“As previously stated, 1MDB will fully cooperate with any foreign lawful authority, subject to international protocols governing such matters and the advice of the relevant domestic lawful authorities,” said 1MDB.