US charges Malaysian financier in multibillion-dollar 1MDB corruption scandal

Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, was changed with misappropriating money from the state-owned IMDB and using it for bribes and kickbacks. (AFP)
Updated 02 November 2018
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US charges Malaysian financier in multibillion-dollar 1MDB corruption scandal

  • A three-count indictment charges against Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, was announced
  • The set of charges represent the first criminal prosecutions in the US arising from the epic corruption scandal at IMDB

WASHINGTON: The Justice Department announced charges Thursday against a fugitive Malaysian financier and two former Goldman Sachs bankers accused in a money laundering and bribery scheme that pilfered billions of dollars from a Malaysian investment fund created to spur economic development projects in that country.
A three-count indictment charges Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, with misappropriating money from the state-owned fund and using it for bribes and kickbacks to foreign officials, to pay for luxury real estate, art and jewelry in the United States and to help finance Hollywood movies, including “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Also charged was a former Goldman Sachs banker, Tim Leissner, who pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy and to conspiring to violate foreign bribery laws. Another former bank official, Ng Chong Hwa, 51, also known as Roger Ng, was arrested earlier Thursday in Malaysia and accused of circumventing internal accounting controls, prosecutors said.
Leissner’s attorney did not return messages seeking comment. It was not clear if Ng had a lawyer.
A spokesman for Goldman Sachs, which the indictment says raised about $6.5 billion through bond offerings for the fund, said the firm “continues to cooperate with all authorities investigating this matter.”
Police in Malaysia said in July that Low had fled Macau to an unknown destination. Before facing criminal charges, Low became well known in the New York City and Los Angeles club scenes. In 2012, he threw a lavish 31st birthday bash attended by Leonardo DiCaprio, Kim Kardashian and other celebrities that The Wall Street Journal called the “wildest party (Las) Vegas ever saw.”
Low, who remains at large, issued a statement through a spokesman maintaining his innocence.
“Mr. Low simply asks that the public keep an open mind regarding this case until all of the evidence comes to light, which he believes will vindicate him,” the statement said.
Leissner acknowledged paying millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to government officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi, according to court records. He was ordered to forfeit $43.7 million as part of his guilty plea.
The set of charges represent the first criminal prosecutions in the US arising from the epic corruption scandal at the state investment fund known as 1MDB. The Justice Department in 2016 moved to recover more than $1 billion that it said had been stolen, filing a civil complaint that sought the forfeiture of property, including a Manhattan penthouse, a Beverly Hills mansion, a luxury jet and paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet.
In a speech last year in Washington, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions denounced the scandal as “kleptocracy at its worst.” The pilfered funds were used on a “lavish spending spree,” the attorney general said, including a $265 million yacht and a $100 million investment in the music label EMI.
“In total, 1MDB officials allegedly laundered more than $4.5 billion in funds through a complex web of opaque transactions and fraudulent shell companies with bank accounts in countries ranging from Switzerland and Singapore to Luxembourg and the United States,” Sessions said.
The fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, was set up in 2009 by then-Prime Minister Najib Razak to promote economic development. It relied primarily on debt to fund investment and economic development projects and was overseen by senior Malaysian government officials, according to court records.
Najib chaired its advisory board and as finance minister held veto power over its activities. Low, a friend of Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz, had no official role at 1MDB but had considerable influence over its dealings and was in frequent contact with Najib, US authorities have said.
“As noted in the indictment today, Mr. Low held no formal position at 1MDB, nor was he ever employed by Goldman Sachs, or the Governments of Malaysia or Abu Dhabi,” Low’s spokesman said.
The scandal has already had major political ramifications in Malaysia, where Najib in 2015 sacked his attorney general and a deputy prime minister for demanding answers about 1MDB. A parliamentary inquiry found many irregularities but had no mandate to prosecute.
Former leader Mahathir Mohamad, outraged over the scandal, came out of retirement and the opposition united behind him in the national elections, leading to Najib’s ouster in May.
Najib and his former treasury chief were charged last week with criminal breach of trust involving 6.64 billion ringgits ($1.6 billion), charges that came on top of 32 earlier counts of corruption, breach of trust and money laundering that Najib faces in connection with the 1MDB scandal.
Najib and Mohamad Irwan Serigar Abdullah, the former treasury secretary-general, pleaded not guilty to misappropriating government funds between December 2016 and December 2017. Police have also seized hundreds of luxury handbags, jewelry and cash — worth more than $266 million — during raids on apartments linked to Najib’s family.
An attorney for Najib, Shafee Abdullah, dismissed the latest charges as “foolish.”


Russian big gun rolls out latest hardware for Gulf customers

Updated 18 February 2019
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Russian big gun rolls out latest hardware for Gulf customers

LONDON: As the region’s biggest military exhibition gets underway in Abu Dhabi, Sergey Chemezov, CEO of Russian defense conglomerate Rostec, spoke exclusively to Arab News about the company’s regional ambitions.
What is the expected value of your exports this year? 
The order portfolio of Rosoboronexport, Rostec’s subsidiary, currently exceeds $50 billion. Russia is the second-largest arms supplier in the world.
In 2018, arms and military machinery were supplied to over 40 countries worldwide. In addition, we signed more than 1,100 contractual documents to an amount of over $20 billion, which is nearly one-quarter more than in 2017. 
The Middle East and North Africa accounted for almost half of Rosoboronexport’s supplies of military products, more than 40 percent. Only two years before, that share had been significantly smaller, about 20 percent. That trend says it all; military and technical cooperation with the countries of that region have been strengthening. The Middle East is currently the leading region in the world by the volume of arms purchased, accounting for nearly one-third of the total market. Middle Eastern states (Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, the UAE and Qatar) make half of the list of 10 major importers of military products, and Saudi Arabia remains the top importer. 
Which country will most likely become your largest client in the Middle East in 2019? Which systems is Rostec planning to sell in the region this year?
We’re implementing a range of projects in the UAE, both in civil and military areas. Russia is also interested in developing military and technical cooperation with all countries of the region. In recent years, we’ve resumed close contacts with a whole range of states, including Iraq.
I’d like to particularly focus on the Yak-130 combat trainer aircraft. The countries of the region are showing a continuously increasing interest in combat trainers. The Yak-300 has all the necessary characteristics required for aircraft of that type, and I firmly believe that it has great potential for supplies to the countries of the region.
What are the potential consequences of the suspension of the New START Treaty with the US? Is it affecting Rostec’s production plans? 
As a person who cares about what’s happening in the world, I can say that I’m worried by the position of the US. It is leading to a new arms race and aggravating international tension. The Russian Army is well equipped, and is capable of efficiently responding to attacks. Our corporation has done its best for this purpose. Yet there will be no winners in a third world war if it happens. 
Is there up-to-date information on supplies of S-400 systems to Turkey?
The contract for the S-400 was signed in 2017. We’ve agreed to reduce the terms already twice, and in autumn 2019 the obligations will be fulfilled. Of course, Turkey does have ambitions to develop its national defense industry, and in this regard, it has already achieved significant progress in a range of areas. Therefore, our partners are interested in such topics as joint development of machinery, including such advanced equipment as air defense systems.
As to joint production, the contract for the S-400 provides for an option. This is about cooperation in technology. We’re ready to agree to localization of manufacture of certain elements of that system. I’ve said it earlier and will repeat it again: The S-400 is a defense system, not an offensive one. We can sell it to the Americans if they want it. Thus, strategically there are no problems in this regard. And I can see no problems for Russia in terms of security.
Is Rostec discussing any potential sales with Saudi Arabia, and if yes, in which area?
The military sector prefers silence, therefore I wouldn’t go into detail. I’d only say that we’re actively working in a range of areas. We can confirm information about signing a number of contracts with Saudi Arabia, as well as about both parties’ readiness to fulfill them, including on the S-400. Talking of the civil area, Rostec possesses a whole range of innovative technologies that can be demanded within implementation of the ambitious NEOM city project. These are water treatment systems, electronic services, various solutions in the area of composite materials, glazing with special features, as well as advanced technologies and innovations for manufacturing biodegradable polymers and products based on natural renewable raw materials. 
Do you have up-to-date information on progress in the privatization of Rostec’s holdings?
The sale of shares isn’t an end in itself for Rostec, but rather a tool for developing its assets in compliance with the corporation’s development strategy until 2025. We’re interested not only in attracting additional investments, but also in gaining new competences, technologies and markets. Private-public partnerships help our enterprises, and holdings become more efficient and take new positions quicker. 
What are your expectations of the corporation’s profit for the year?
We’re finishing assessment of the results, and will officially announce them in the near future. Now I can say that the company continues to show good financial results, and we expect an increase in both revenue and net profit compared to 2017.
Do you expect that long-standing low oil prices will affect regional sales this year?
The example of Russia shows that oil prices do not determine everything. Even when they are low, the economy can develop. 
We sense that the countries of the region have already adapted to the new price realities that dramatically appeared in 2014. At the same time, interest in our products, both military and civilian, in the region is growing from year to year.
What products will Rostec holding companies present at IDEX 2019?
The IDEX exhibition is one of the world’s largest venues where Russia demonstrates its latest developments in the field of weapons and military equipment. This is an opportunity for us to negotiate and discuss cooperation with our traditional partners, primarily from the Middle East, which is of particular interest to Russian industry. After all, the Middle East and North Africa account for almost half of the sales of Russian military products abroad. The joint exposition of Russian enterprises at IDEX, which occupies more than 1,100 square meters of exhibition area, will feature about 1,000 samples of military products.
In particular, the unparalleled Pantsir-ME, an air defense missile and artillery system, will make its international debut at the exhibition, presented by the High-Precision Complexes Holding. The system is able to protect ships from all types of aerial kill assets.
A large-caliber automatic assault rifle complex, the SHAK-12, designed for close combat, will also be shown there. Units of Russian special services are armed with these complexes.
Kalashnikov Concern will showcase a wide range of small arms and hunting weapons. The AK-15 and 200 series Kalashnikov certified for export will be shown abroad for the first time. The 200 series assault rifles will be one of the key Russian novelties at IDEX 2019. 
Tecmash Concern will exhibit a number of its latest ammunition products. These include a 122-mm unmanned rocket missile with a detachable blast fragmentation warhead for the Tornado-G multiple-launching rocket system. This ammunition has much greater kill effectiveness than issued shells of the Grad system. At the same stand, visitors will for the first time see a unique video showing how the Tornado-G works. In addition, at the show the world community will for the first time see Tecmash’s AZ-TSR-47, an increased-efficiency jet-stabilized projectile designed to protect surface ships from weapons equipped with radar guidance systems.
TSNIITOCHMASH will present at IDEX its already well-known second-generation Ratnik combat equipment, which is exactly what is now supplied to the Russian Army. Ratnik in the color of sand, presented at IDEX, has been successfully tested in Syria. Its components include a body armor backed with a special armor panel. This panel can withstand 10 hits of SVD sniper rifle armor-piercing incendiary bullets, fired from a distance of 10 meters, and the plate is not deformed on the back, providing protection against contusion damage. The Russian bulletproof vest also wins in terms of weight: It is 2.5-3 kg less compared to the US general military bulletproof vest.
Each exhibition held in the Middle East demonstrates that the corporation has immense potential to cooperate with the countries of the region.