Malaysia seeks Singapore’s help in 1MDB probes as officials meet

A cooperative Malaysia could help investigators around the world piece together how billions may have been embezzled and laundered through major financial centres in the US, Europe and Asia to finance what the US said were spending sprees by corrupt officials and their associates. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
A cooperative Malaysia could help investigators around the world piece together how billions may have been embezzled and laundered through major financial centres in the US, Europe and Asia to finance what the US said were spending sprees by corrupt officials and their associates. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, May 31 — Malaysian officials investigating state investment company 1MDB reached out to their Singapore counterparts for assistance, as Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s administration acts on a pledge to cooperate with probes underway around the globe.

“Our Malaysian counterparts have requested for our assistance in relation to their 1MDB-related investigations,” the Singapore police said today in response to Bloomberg News queries. “We agreed to a meeting in Kuala Lumpur.”

The two sides were meeting today, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified. Singapore has seized hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and jailed bankers over transactions linked to the scandal-plagued fund.

Mahathir, who took power earlier this month, is trying to uncover the extent of alleged embezzlement and money laundering at 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which was set up by former premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak in 2009 to attract foreign investment. Investigators in the US and Europe had complained of a lack of assistance from Malaysian authorities under the previous administration.

A member of Malaysia’s 1MDB task force formed to coordinate the probe couldn’t immediately comment when reached by phone. A spokesman for Malaysia’s anti-graft commission declined to comment when asked to confirm the meeting.

A cooperative Malaysia could help investigators around the world piece together how billions may have been embezzled and laundered through major financial centers in the US, Europe and Asia — to finance what the US said were spending sprees by corrupt officials and their associates. Najib’s government and 1MDB had repeatedly insisted all its funds were accounted for.

Members of Malaysia’s 1MDB task force met with officials from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice last week to discuss the focus and direction of probes. Swiss prosecutors have said they wanted to start talks with Malaysian counterparts as soon as possible to better coordinate various criminal probes into the sprawling case.

In recent years, Singapore ordered two Swiss private banks to shut, fined other large banks, seized assets and banned at least eight people from the finance industry for their actions on 1MDB-related transactions. Singapore authorities said this month they’ve cooperated extensively with their Malaysian counterparts on past requests for information on 1MDB.

Prosecutors in Singapore have described 1MDB as the country’s largest and most complex money-laundering case. They said its banking and financial systems were used as conduits for billions of dollars siphoned from 1MDB, aided by officers from the fund and bankers in the city state who ignored suspicious and high-risk transactions for their own purposes.

The 1MDB task force said last week that an FBI letter in November 2016 to its former anti-graft chief hadn’t been responded to. A DOJ request for mutual legal assistance to Attorney General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali in September 2017 wasn’t fulfilled and was postponed with the reason that it would interfere with investigations done by Malaysian authorities, and no cooperation was extended, according to the task force. Apandi has been placed on leave by Mahathir. — Bloomberg

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