US authorities are seeking to sell a $39 million luxury mansion in Los Angeles allegedly bought by a Malaysian financier with money looted from scandal-hit state fund 1MDB, court documents showed.
Billions of dollars were purportedly pilfered from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund by former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his cronies, and spent on everything from high-end real estate to artworks.
Financier Low Taek Jho is suspected of playing a central role in the fraud and has been charged in absentia in Malaysia and the US, which is seeking to recover assets allegedly bought with looted funds via civil lawsuits.
Among these assets is the mansion in Beverly Hills, a wealthy area of LA that is home to many Hollywood stars, said to have been bought by Low in 2012 with stolen money.
US prosecutors and Low’s holding company that owns the property have agreed to try to sell it, according to documents filed in a California court on Friday.
“The property is at risk of deterioration and damage as it will likely be uninhabited during” ongoing legal action unless it is sold, the filings said.
“The expense of keeping the property is excessive and/or is disproportionate to its fair market value,” they added.
The US legal action linked to the mansion will continue despite the agreement. Proceeds from any eventual sale will be held in a government account until the action ends, the filings said.
Low’s spokesman in a statement welcomed the “mutual effort to preserve the property’s value while ensuring the owners’ claims are protected and may proceed in a timely fashion”.
The current whereabouts of Low, who gained a reputation as a jet-setting playboy, are unknown. He has denied any wrongdoing.
The 1MDB scandal played a huge part in the election loss last year of Najib’s coalition, which had governed Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957.
The ex-leader has since been arrested over the fraud and went on trial last month.
Malaysia’s new government has re-opened investigations into 1MDB and vowed to get back stolen money. The US is getting ready to return about $200 million of recovered funds to Malaysia, Bloomberg News reported this week.