U.S. Chases Penthouses and Beverly Hills Mansions in 1MDB Probe
One condo in the Time Warner Center has a 64-foot-long terrace
Jho Low and ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ backer said to divert funds
One apartment in Manhattan’s Time Warner Center has a 64-foot-long
terrace outside a master suite with a walk-in closet, two bathrooms and
a separate dressing room. A mansion in Beverly Hills features a
pyramid in the middle of an indoor pool.
Those are two of the 11 pieces of real estate the U.S. government is
trying to seize as part of an investigation into the alleged
misappropriation of $3.5 billion from a Malaysian state fund,
according to a court filing Wednesday by the U.S. Justice Department.
The U.S. links most of
the real estate to Riza Aziz,
a stepson of Malaysia’s
prime minister, and Jho Low,
a friend and financier known
for partying with Lindsay
Lohan and Paris Hilton.
Riza produced “The Wolf
of Wall Street,” a movie
about decadence and greed
starring Leonardo DiCaprio,
and Low got an on-screen
credit and a mention in the actor’s Golden Globes speech. Money they
allegedly diverted from the fund -- 1Malaysia Development Bhd.,
known as 1MDB -- was raised through bond offerings underwritten
by Goldman Sachs Group Inc., according to the complaint.
“Unfortunately and tragically, a number of corrupt officials treated
this public trust as a personal bank account,” Attorney General
Loretta Lynch said Wednesday.
Among the other properties is a $33.5 million condo at the Park
Laurel near Lincoln Center allegedly bought by a shell company
controlled by Aziz. It has a 1,244-square-foot (116-square-meter)
terrace wrapping around a corner, according to a listing that mentions soundproofing and heated marble floors. Low is said to have
spent $39 million on another mansion in Beverly Hills that once
belonged to “Fantasy Island” actor Ricardo Montalban, then built
a gym and upgraded the audio-visual system, the complaint says.
Money traveled through
shell companies, checks,
wire transfers and accounts
with JPMorgan Chase
& Co., Deutsche
Bank AG, Rothschild Bank
AG and BSI Bank Ltd.,
according to the Justice
Department, which didn’t
accuse them of wrongdoing.
The deal for the $30.6 million
Time Warner penthouse allegedly involved money diverted from
1MDB to a Swiss bank account to one in Singapore to an account
in the name of Low’s father, according to the complaint.
Low has said he provided consulting to 1MDB that didn’t break any
laws, while the fund and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak have
both denied wrongdoing. The investment fund said in a statement
that it wasn’t a party to the suit and hasn’t been contacted by the
The government wants to seize more than $1 billion of assets.
Besides residential real estate, money that allegedly ended up
with public officials and their relatives and associates was spent
on a private jet, Monet paintings, a stake in Central Park South’s
Park Lane Hotel and gambling expenses at Las Vegas casinos,
the Justice Department alleges. Its complaint says Low gambled
there with DiCaprio.
His character in “The Wolf of Wall Street” has a condo in
midtown Manhattan, complete with a terrace that his friends
use to dangle a man over the street. In real life, it sold for less
than $8 million, a fraction of the $50.9 million price for the
penthouse in Chelsea’s Walker Tower allegedly bought by an
associate, Khadem Al Qubaisi. The former United Arab Emirates
official diverted funds to buy it, the Justice Department said.
Lynch said the civil action and asset seizures are the largest ever
brought by the department’s six-year-old Kleptocracy Asset
Recovery Initiative, set up to combat corruption and money laundering.
Jordan Belfort, the real-life stockbroker played by DiCaprio,
was convicted in 2003 of money laundering and securities fraud.
He served about half of a four-year prison sentence.