A US grand jury is the latest authority to probe Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak over properties purchased there by his stepson Riza Aziz and businessman Low Taek Jho, The New York Times (NYT) reported today.
A unit in the US Justice Department which probes international corruption is conducting the inquiry, NYT quoted anonymous sources with knowledge on the matter. The inquiry is focused on real estate purchases in America in recent years by shell companies.
NYT had reported in February about these purchases using shell companies by various international figures, including Riza and Low, also known as Jho Low.
NYT also reported that besides the property buys, the corruption inquiry would also look into the US$681 million allegedly deposited into Najib’s personal accounts, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal and later confirmed by Malaysian anti-graft authorities as a political donation.
The fund transfer comes under the United States jurisdiction because it went through American bank Wells Fargo, the paper added.
In its February report, NYT had found that more than RM150 million in expensive properties were traced back to either Low or Riza.
These had included a US$30.55 million penthouse at the Time Warner Centre in Manhattan, US$39 million mansion in Hollywood, the L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills and part of the Park Lane Hotel in New York.
It also traced a US$33.5 million condominium in Park Laurel, Manhattan, as well as other properties in Los Angeles back to Riza, through shell companies.
NYT’s report also mentioned former 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) executive Jasmine Loo Ai Swan, as having signed for the purchase of a US$4.5 million condominium bought by a shell company called Cricklewood One Madison LLC last year.
The concierge at the building confirmed that a woman by her name lived there, according to the NYT.
Loo is being sought by Bank Negara Malaysia for assistance for investigations into 1MDB.
NYT said it attempted to obtain responses from the persons and companies mentioned in its report but all declined to comment.
A lawyer for Cricklewood declined to comment, while Loo did not respond to a note left at her condo building.
Representatives for Riza and Low, however, told the paper that they had not been involved in any inappropriate business dealings.
NYT said Najib was preparing to leave for London this week for a trade convention and would be expected in New York after that for the United Nations’ General Assembly.
The paper also quoted former US ambassador to Malaysia John Malott, who noted that Najib “really, really values his international image” and questioned if the prime minister would now be “shunned”.
Najib has come under tremendous pressure over 1MDB, which he oversees as Finance Minister, and the transfer of money into his personal accounts.
He also reshuffled his Cabinet in July, removing the deputy prime minister and another minister who were critical of his handling of the debt-ridden investment firm, and changed attorney-generals in the midst of a probe into 1MDB and the transfer of funds to his personal accounts. – September 22, 2015.
- Malaysia’s Leader, Najib Razak, Faces U.S. Corruption Inquiry [21 Sep 2015]
- Rosmah’s son paid RM110 million for New York penthouse, reports portal [28 Dec 2013]