Malaysia asks Interpol to trace financier linked to 1MDB scandal

Low Taek Jho is accused in lawsuits of using 1MDB-linked funds to buy Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio a $3.2 million Picasso painting. (Reuters)
Updated 23 October 2017
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Malaysia asks Interpol to trace financier linked to 1MDB scandal

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has asked Interpol to try to locate a Malaysian financier for questioning over his suspected involvement in a multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB, the deputy prime minister said on Monday.
The US Justice Department is seeking to seize $1.7 billion in assets that it said were bought with misappropriated funds from 1MDB, according to dozens of civil lawsuits filed by the department in the past two years.
The assets include a private jet, a hotel and real estate in New York, and a $107 million interest in EMI Music Publishing bought by Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, the lawsuits said.
Low, whose whereabouts are unknown, has not been charged with any crime. But US authorities have said they are pursuing a criminal probe into 1MDB-linked transactions.
“We are confident Interpol will act professionally, but the police have yet to receive any detailed information (on Low’s whereabouts),” Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said in parliament.
A spokesman for Low could not be reached for comment. Low has previously denied any wrongdoing, saying that the US Justice Department’s actions were “a further example of global overreach in pursuit of a deeply flawed case.”
Interpol did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
1MDB, founded by Prime Minister Najib Razak, is facing money laundering probes in at least six countries including the US, Switzerland and Singapore.
A total of $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, according to the US lawsuits.
Low is accused in the lawsuits of using 1MDB-linked funds to buy Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio a $3.2 million Picasso painting, and giving about $9 million in jewelry to Australian model Miranda Kerr.
DiCaprio and Kerr have turned over the items to US authorities and promised to cooperate in the 1MDB probe.
The lawsuits also said $681 million from 1MDB was transferred to the account of “Malaysian Official 1,” which US and Malaysian sources have previously identified as Najib.
Najib has denied any wrongdoing and a Malaysian government investigation has also cleared him of any wrongdoing. A Malaysian police probe into 1MDB is under way.


South Korea downgrades Japan trade status as dispute deepens

Updated 18 September 2019

South Korea downgrades Japan trade status as dispute deepens

  • The change comes a week after South Korea initiated a complaint to the World Trade Organization
  • The new measures in effect mean it might take up to 15 days for South Korean companies to gain approvals to export sensitive materials to Japan

SEOUL, South Korea: South Korea on Wednesday dropped Japan from a list of countries receiving fast-track approvals in trade, a reaction to Tokyo’s decision to downgrade Seoul’s trade status amid a tense diplomatic dispute.
South Korea’ trade ministry said Japan’s removal from a 29-member “white list” of nations enjoying minimum trade restrictions went into effect as Seoul rearranged its export control system covering hundreds of sensitive materials that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.
The change comes a week after South Korea initiated a complaint to the World Trade Organization over a separate Japanese move to tighten export controls on key chemicals South Korean companies use to manufacture semiconductors and displays.
Seoul has accused Tokyo of weaponizing trade to retaliate against South Korean court rulings ordering Japanese companies to offer reparations to South Koreans forced into labor during World War II. Tokyo’s measures struck a nerve in South Korea, where many still resent Japan’s brutal colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.
According to South Korean trade ministry, the new measures in effect mean it might take up to 15 days for South Korean companies to gain approvals to export sensitive materials to Japan, compared to the five days or less it took under a simpler inspection process provided for favored trade partners.
Lee Ho-hyeon, a South Korean trade ministry official, said the change would affect about 100 local firms that export items such as telecommunications security equipment, semiconductor materials and chemical products to Japan. He said Seoul will work to minimize disruption to South Korean companies.
Japan for decades has enjoyed a huge trade surplus with South Korea, an economy that’s much more dependent on exports. Many major manufacturers heavily rely on parts and materials imported from Japan.
But the dispute is taking a toll. Exports to South Korea from Japan fell 9.4% last month, Japan’s Finance Ministry reported Wednesday.
The trade dispute between the neighbors erupted in July, when Japan imposed tighter export controls on three chemicals South Korean companies use to produce semiconductors and displays for smartphones and TVs, major export items for South Korea. It cited unspecified security concerns over Seoul’s export controls.
A few weeks later, Japan dropped South Korea from its own trade “white list,” triggered a full-blown diplomatic dispute that took relations between the US allies to their worst in decades.
The dispute has spilled over to security issues, with Seoul declaring it plans to terminate a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan that symbolized the countries’ three-way security cooperation with the United States in the face of North Korea’s nuclear threat and China’s growing influence.
Following an angry reaction from Washington, Seoul later said it could reconsider its decision to end the military agreement, which remains in effect until November, if Japan relists South Korea as a favored trade partner.
Seoul announced its plans to downgrade Tokyo’s trade status in August before holding a 20-day period to gather opinions on the decision, during which the Japanese government voiced opposition to the move it described as “arbitrary and retaliatory,” Lee said.
He said Seoul needs to strengthen controls on shipments to a country that’s “hard to cooperate with” and fails to uphold “basic international principles” while managing export controls on sensitive materials.
South Korea previously divided its trade partners into two groups in managing export controls on sensitive materials. Following Wednesday’s change, South Korea now has an in-between bracket where it placed only Japan, which would mostly receive the same treatment in trade as the non-favored nations in what had been the second group.