The US Department of Justice has asked an American court to allow it to seize artwork including two Warhol paintings and a Basquiat drawing, as well as an apartment in Paris and millions of dollars held in Swiss bank accounts, as it continues to pursue assets allegedly linked to the multi-billion-dollar looting of Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.
In documents filed with the US district court for the central district of California on Wednesday, officials from the DOJ’s money laundering and asset forfeiture section claimed the artwork, property and money was owned or controlled by people it accuses of being involved in the plunder of 1MDB, including the accused mastermind of the fraud, Malaysian financier Jho Low.
The DOJ has asked the court to declare the assets to be proceeds of crime and allow it to seize them. While the DOJ has custody of two of the artworks, it wants the court to give it legal ownership of them.
It is the latest in a series of lawsuits against assets allegedly linked to 1MDB mounted by the DOJ. Previous targets have included Low’s superyacht, Equanimity, millions of dollars in jewellery, paintings by Van Gogh and Monet, and the profits from movies allegedly financed using stolen money, which included The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
The DOJ claimed that in 2012 Low bought the Monet, a painting of a French village titled Vétheuil Au Soleil, for US$9.7m and the first Warhol – one of the artist’s series of pictures of Campbells’ soup cans – for US$6m.
Low gave the US$4m Basquiat drawing to Wolf of Wall Street producer Joey McFarland in 2013, the DOJ said in court documents. It said McFarland voluntarily handed the artwork over to the US government last year.
The DOJ told the court that in 2014 Low gave the other Warhol, a round silkscreen of John F Kennedy’s widow Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis worth US$1m, to music producer Kasseem Dean, who works under the name Swizz Beats. Dean also voluntarily gave the artwork over to authorities, the DOJ said.
It said the apartment in Paris was ultimately owned through a family trust by Low, “his brother Low Taek Szen, his sister Low May Lin, and their parents Low Hock Peng and Evelyn Goh Gaik Ewe”. No allegations of wrongdoing have been made against Low’s siblings and parents.
The DOJ is also seeking US$19.7m held in an account at Banque Privée Edmond de Rothschild that it alleges belongs to another figure it claims was involved in the 1MDB swindle, Khadem al-Qubaisi. Al-Qubaisi, the former boss of Abu Dhabi’s state-owned International Petroleum Investment Company, was last year sentenced to 15 years’ jail by a court in the Gulf country over corruption allegations reportedly unrelated to 1MDB.
An additional US$9.7m in cash and shares, held by Low associate Jasmine Loo in an account at Falcon Private Bank in Switzerland, should also be forfeited, the DOJ claims. Loo also faces charges in Malaysia over 1MDB, where she was general counsel. Her current whereabouts is unknown.
The DOJ said all the assets and cash are the proceeds of money siphoned off from 1MDB through a series of complex financial frauds engineered by Low between 2009 and 2014.
Low, who is believed to be somewhere in mainland China, held no formal role at 1MDB but was close to former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, who is currently awaiting a verdict, due this month, on fraud charges relating to the sovereign wealth fund.
Low has consistently denied any wrongdoing. His Australian spokesman declined to comment.
No allegations are made against DiCaprio, McFarland or Dean.