The Malaysian Bar is deeply concerned about the serious allegations set out in the civil suit filed by the United States Department of Justice on 15 June 2017, which seeks “the forfeiture and recovery of approximately [US$D]540 million in assets associated with an international conspiracy to launder funds misappropriated from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund”.
According to the Justice Department, this case — together with the civil forfeiture complaints filed by the Justice Departmenton 20 July 2016 seeking more than US$1bn, and on 7 June 2017 seeking approximately US$100m in assets — represents the largest action ever brought under its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. The assets now subject to forfeiture total almost US$1.7bn.
The allegations contained in the Justice Department’s court filings implicate officials of 1Malaysia Development Berhad, their family members and other associates — including an individual described as “MALAYSIAN OFFICIAL 1”, who has since been acknowledged to be the prime minister — of wrongdoing.
In view of the gravity of the claims, the manner in which the civil suits have been downplayed, dismissed, and even denounced by Malaysian authorities, without addressing the substance of the allegations made, is troubling and unacceptable.
Although the allegations are not proven until judgment is awarded in favour of the United States of America, it is critical that they be investigated by the Malaysian government comprehensively and objectively based on evidence, in the interest of transparency, accountability and good governance. Without having done so, it is premature for the government to disregard these allegations or exonerate any individual or company of any wrongdoing.
Local news coverage of these civil suits has appeared muted, which is troubling, given the severity of the allegations. The integrity and credibility of our financial institutions and regulatory bodies, in the eyes of the nation as well as the global audience, rest on the Malaysian government’s response.
We are heartened by the statement in April 2017 by the Attorney General of Malaysia, Mohamed Apandi Ali, that he had never ordered that the investigation into 1MDB be stopped, and that “no files are closed permanently when we say NFA (no further action), even the 1MDB file”.
In light of the new information disclosed by the Justice Department’s latest civil suit, the attorney general must, as the prudent and necessary next step, direct the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to resume its investigations into 1MDB.
The Malaysian Bar further urges the attorney general to seek, without delay, assistance from the Justice Department to provide all information relevant for investigations into the matter. The same should be done in respect of the relevant authorities in numerous other jurisdictions where there have been investigations, measures imposed, criminal prosecutions and convictions, or proceedings for forfeiture of assets, against individuals or financial institutions.
George Varughese is president of the Malaysian Bar.