KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 19 — The main effort to undo the damage of the 1MDB scandal takes place in the mundane setting of civil actions aimed at recouping money stolen from the state investment firm, said Tommy Thomas.
The attorney general (AG) said while most of the world’s attention was focused on the criminal aspects of the case — such as the prosecution of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak — the substantive work was taking place quietly in the arena of civil proceedings.
In an interview with The Edge Financial Daily, Thomas stressed that these efforts were equal to, if not more important than efforts to pursue the wrongdoers in the global financial scandal.
“The civil part is absolutely neglected. Everybody forgets that because the criminal dimension is ‘sexy’ and ‘newsworthy’.
“Civil recovery is the one that’s underrated and not understood at all. It is essentially to recover as much of the stolen stuff as possible, and most of them are [found] abroad,” he was quoted as saying.
Malaysia has so far secured custody of the Equanimity, the RM1 billion superyacht allegedly owned by Low Taek Jho, the fugitive financier increasingly becoming the main mover behind the 1MDB saga.
Yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said negotiations are also underway for the seizure of a private jet grounded abroad and believed to also be owned by Low.
Thomas said such efforts had been hampered by the defeated Barisan Nasional government’s refusal to acknowledge or claim any of the assets and funds seized by foreign authorities pursuing the 1MDB scandal.
Aside from the yacht, US authorities in particular have taken possession of jewellery, paintings, and more suspected to have been procured using stolen 1MDB funds; the Attorney General’s Chambers is working closely with the DoJ on this matter now.
Thomas said his office has appointed lawyers in foreign jurisdictions such as Singapore to begin claiming the “low-hanging fruits” first, but stressed that this could still take months before any results are visible.
“Seldom would a beneficiary tell the world ‘these are not my assets’, and that’s what Malaysia was doing. We only started telling the truth after GE14,” Thomas said.
On the criminal side of the 1MDB investigation, Thomas said his office was limited to the investigation papers that are presented.
Saying he does not know the exact number of active investigations on the matter, he also emphasised that there is no single “1MDB investigation” due to the complexity of the alleged financial crimes perpetrated.
This was illustrated by the number of criminal breach of trust and money laundering charges filed against Najib alone over the miniscule sum of RM42 million, which represents 0.001 per cent of the total debt 1MDB is believed to have amassed.
“You really have to look at it the way the fraudsters had planned it. The fraudsters designed one transaction after another, deal by deal.
“So there could be a 2011 fraud, a 2012 fraud, a 2013 transaction, a 2014 deal and so on.”