Malaysia drops 1MDB money laundering case against ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ producer

The US has returned or assisted Malaysia with recovering around $600 million from the sale of assets allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB funds. (AFP)
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Updated 14 May 2020

Malaysia drops 1MDB money laundering case against ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ producer

  • Riza Aziz is co-founder of Red Granite Productions that was behind the 2013 Oscar-nominated film
  • Red Granite paid the US government $60 million in September 2017 in settlement

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian prosecutors on Thursday dropped a $248-million money laundering case against a producer of Hollywood film “The Wolf of Wall Street” and the stepson of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, citing a deal for an undisclosed amount of funds to be paid to the government.
Riza Aziz, the co-founder of Red Granite Productions that was behind the 2013 Oscar-nominated film, was charged with five counts of money laundering last year over allegations that he had received $248 million misappropriated from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
US and Malaysian authorities say about $4.5 billion was looted from 1MDB, co-founded in 2009 by then-premier Najib.
A sessions court judge on Thursday ruled that the charges against Riza would be withdrawn without acquittal, after prosecutors said they had reached a deal which would see the government receiving “a substantial sum running into several million ringgit.”
“The sums have direct reference to the subject matter of the charges framed in this case,” lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram told the court, according to a copy of his statement made available to Reuters.
Gopal said steps would be taken to ensure a full acquittal for Riza upon completion of the deal.
Riza’s lawyer Hariharan Tara Singh declined to comment, saying he was not at liberty to disclose the terms of the settlement.
The US Department of Justice has said Red Granite financed three films, including “The Wolf of Wall Street,” using funds they suspect were stolen from 1MDB.
Red Granite paid the US government $60 million in September 2017 to settle a civil forfeiture claim over the rights to the films.
The United States has returned or assisted Malaysia with recovering around $600 million from the sale of assets allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB funds.
After losing an election to Mahathir Mohamad in 2019, Najib has been slapped with 42 criminal charges tied to losses at now-defunct 1MDB and other state entities. He has pleaded not guilty and has consistently denied wrongdoing.
Najib told Reuters in March, days after Mahathir unexpectedly resigned amid political turmoil, that he now expected an atmosphere more conducive to a fair hearing.
The case has also led to scrutiny of Goldman Sachs, which Malaysia has accused of misleading investors over bond sales totaling $6.5 billion that the bank helped raise for 1MDB. Three units of the bank have pleaded not guilty.


Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

Updated 08 July 2020

Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

  • Devastated family mourn latest victim of health system struggling to cope with outbreak

NEW DELHI: The death of an expectant mom and her unborn child after 13 hospitals in one day refused to treat her has put India’s strained health care system under the spotlight.

The devastated husband and 6-year-old child of eight-month pregnant Neelam Singh, 30, are still struggling to come to terms with the “unwarranted loss” a month after her agonizing death in an ambulance outside a hospital in New Delhi.

With more than 100,000 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the Indian capital, Singh became another victim of a health system battling to cope with patient demand due to a lack of bed space and infrastructure.

That, however, has been little comfort for her family members who said they would never be able to overcome the trauma.

“Those 12 hours were the most traumatic experience of our lives, and we have to live with that trauma,” Shailendra Kumar, Singh’s brother-in-law, told Arab News on Tuesday. Singh had developed complications with her pregnancy on June 5, and Kumar said she was rushed to the same hospital in Noida, Uttar Pradesh where she had been going for regular checkups, but was turned away.

“Shivalik (hospital) gave no reason for refusing to admit her. Despite our pleadings, the hospital did not budge from its stand,” Kumar added.

A day-long ordeal ensued, with one hospital after the other unable to treat her. Eventually, she died in an ambulance some 35 kilometers away from her home in Khoda.

“I took her to 13 hospitals, both government and private facilities, and every one refused to admit her. The image of her writhing in pain will always haunt me,” said Kumar, who was accompanied by Singh’s husband. He added that the reasons provided varied from “high costs” to a lack of facilities.

“One hospital told me that I could not pay the high cost so better try my luck somewhere else. At Sharda Hospital in Greater Noida, I was asked to buy a coupon for COVID-19 treatment for 4,500 rupees ($60), which I did, but still, they refused her entry. It was not the loss of one life but two lives,” he said, referring to her unborn child.

He pointed out that the entire family was in a state of shock following her death with her husband “the worst impacted.”

Kumar filed a complaint against Shivalik and other hospitals but said so far “no action has been taken.”

A day after Singh’s death, the district magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar, which Noida falls under, ordered an inquiry and issued instructions for all hospitals “to admit patients regardless of the nature of the case.”

However, 20 days later, on June 26, a similar incident was reported in the Dadri area of Noida.

On that occasion, 21-year-old Robin Bhati had developed a fever, and relatives had taken him to a nearby hospital where a week earlier he had been admitted suffering from influenza. However, the hospital refused to admit him and referred him to a different facility.

Five hours and four hospitals later, a city hospital agreed to take him in, but by then Bhati was already seriously ill and hours later he died after suffering a heart attack.

“We don’t know whether he was a COVID-19 patient or not, but why should hospitals refuse to admit a patient in need of immediate attention,” his uncle Jasveer Bhati told Arab News. A number of the Noida hospitals which allegedly denied admission to Singh and Bhati refused to comment on the cases.

In a statement on Monday, the office of Noida’s chief medical officer said: “Strict instructions have been given to all the private and government hospitals to admit all patients showing COVID-19 symptoms.”

Dr. Loveleen Mangla, a pulmonologist working with Noida-based Metro Hospital and Heart Institute, said: “The government did not prepare itself to face this situation. Now the government is trying to create extra beds and medical facilities, but it’s late. They should have done this three months ago when the nationwide lockdown started.

“With the entire medical infrastructure overstretched and not many quality health workers available in the government hospitals, it’s a grim scenario now,” Mangla added.

With more than 723,000 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, India is now the world’s third worst-affected country after the US and Brazil, with approaching 21,000 people losing their lives.

And the problem is not unique to northern India.

On Saturday, the southern Indian city of Bangalore reported the case of 50-year-old Vasantha, who was rejected by 13 hospitals before she was accepted by the K.C. General Hospital where she eventually died.

Lalitha, a relative of Vasantha, said: “Some hospitals said they didn’t have beds; some said they didn’t have COVID-19 testing facilities, and that way we lost critical hours. She died because of a problem with her respiratory system.”

Experts have questioned whether health care facilities in India are being overstretched purely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Anant Bhan, a Delhi-based independent researcher in global health, policy and bioethics, said: “Is there a real shortage of beds or is it the shortage caused by lack of efficient management? If the cases increase further, we might find it difficult to provide care.”