Indonesia seizes yacht wanted by US in probe of Malaysian fund

Indonesian officials prepare to board the luxury yacht ‘Equanimity’, reportedly worth some 250 million USD and owned by Jho Low, a former unofficial adviser to the Malaysian fund 1MDB, at Benoa Bay in Bali. A luxury yacht sought by US authorities was seized off the Indonesian tourist island of Bali, with the vessel reportedly linked to a corruption scandal at Malaysia’s state investment fund. (AFP)
Updated 28 February 2018
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Indonesia seizes yacht wanted by US in probe of Malaysian fund

JAKARTA: Indonesia has seized a luxury yacht on the tourist island of Bali that is wanted by US authorities as part of a probe into alleged multibillion-dollar corruption at Malaysian state investment fund 1MBD.
Metro TV on Wednesday showed local police and what it identified as FBI officers on board the sleek 92-meter (300 foot) vessel, Equanimity, moored off Bali.
In June, the US Justice Department filed a civil case seeking recovery of $540 million in assets, including the yacht, that it says were stolen from 1MDB, a fund set up by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak that was intended to promote economic development. Overall, the Justice Department says more than $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund.
Agung Setya, director of economic crimes at Indonesia’s national police, told Metro TV that local authorities began working with US authorities a week ago in relation to the vessel. He said it was located on Tuesday in waters off the island of Lombok, which neighbors Bali, and then shifted to Bali’s Tanjung Benoa waters.
“We have legal confirmation that this asset is the result of a crime,” he said. “Our law stipulates that anyone who hides an asset resulting from the proceeds of crime is committing a money-laundering crime.”
Setya said the police had secured a court order to seize Equanimity and are questioning its 34 crew. He said the yacht is worth about $250 million.
The Justice Department alleges the yacht was bought by Jho Low, an associate of Najib who had no formal role at 1MBD but considerable influence over the organization, for his personal use. It was among the more than $400 million that the department accuses Low of stealing himself.
Najib was embroiled in the scandal when it emerged that nearly $1 billion had passed through his personal bank accounts. He and the fund deny any wrongdoing.
Yacht chartering sites say Equanimity has an Asian-themed interior, a swimming pool, movie theater, helicopter landing pad and other luxury amenities.


Italy endorses China’s Belt and Road plan in first for a G7 nation

Updated 24 March 2019
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Italy endorses China’s Belt and Road plan in first for a G7 nation

ROME: Italy endorsed China’s ambitious “Belt and Road” infrastructure plan on Saturday, becoming the first major Western power to back the initiative to help revive the struggling Italian economy.
Saturday’s signing ceremony was the highlight of a three-day trip to Italy by Chinese President Xi Jinping, with the two nations boosting their ties at a time when the United States is locked in a trade war with China.
The rapprochement has angered Washington and alarmed some European Union allies, who fear it could see Beijing gain access to sensitive technologies and critical transport hubs.
Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio played down such concerns, telling reporters that although Rome remained fully committed to its Western partners, it had to put Italy first when it came to commercial ties.
“This is a very important day for us, a day when Made-in-Italy has won, Italy has won and Italian companies have won,” said Di Maio, who signed the memorandum of understanding on behalf of the Italian government in a Renaissance villa.
Taking advantage of Xi’s visit, Italian firms inked deals with Chinese counterparts worth an initial 2.5 billion euros ($2.8 billion). Di Maio said these contracts had a potential, future value of 20 billion euros.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) lies at the heart of China’s foreign policy strategy and was incorporated into the ruling Communist Party constitution in 2017, reflecting Xi’s desire for his country to take a global leadership role.
The United States worries that it is designed to strengthen China’s military influence and could be used to spread technologies capable of spying on Western interests.
WARM WELCOME
Italy’s populist government, anxious to lift the economy out of its third recession in a decade, dismissed calls from Washington to shun the BRI and gave Xi the sort of red-carpet welcome normally reserved for its closest allies.
Some EU leaders also cautioned Italy this week against rushing into the arms of China, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying on Friday that relations with Beijing must not be based primarily on trade.
There was not even universal backing for the BRI agreement within Italy’s ruling coalition, with Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who heads the far-right League, warning against the risk of China “colonialising” Italian markets.
Salvini did not meet Xi and declined to attend a state dinner held in honor of the visiting leader on Friday.
Di Maio, who leads the 5-Star Movement, says Italy is merely playing catch up, pointing to the fact that it exports significantly less to China than either Germany or France.
Italy registered a trade deficit with China of 17.6 billion euros last year and Di Maio said the aim was to eliminate the deficit as soon as possible.
After talks with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Di Maio in the morning, Xi flew to the Sicilian city Palermo for a private visit on Saturday afternoon.
He is due to head to Monte Carlo on Sunday before finishing his brief tour of Europe in France, where he is due to hold talks with Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.