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New Zealand Court Reignites Low Family Flame In 1MDB Case

Josh O'Neill, Assistant Editor , 23 January 2017

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New Zealand's High Court earlier this week agreed that the family can replace Swiss trustees Rothschild with Cayman Islands-based FFP.

A New Zealand court has ruled that Low Taek Jho's family can change trustees holding their assets, a move that could prevent US authorities from seizing $650 million in real estate and business investments allegedly acquired with funds looted from 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Malaysian financier Low is at the epicentre of worldwide money laundering probes into 1MDB, the scandal-hit state-owned fund that is currently the subject of investigations in at least six countries including the US, Singapore and Switzerland. In recent months, multiple indictments and jail sentences have been handed to former bankers over their connection to 1MDB, and last year, BSI and Falcon Private Bank were both forced to shut shop in Singapore amid the city-state's biggest crackdown on alleged money laundering. 

The family of Low claims the Swiss trustees holding their assets are afraid to retaliate against the US for fear of being prosecuted in a global game of investment hide-and-seek triggered by the alleged disappearance of $3.5 billion of the $8 billion raised by 1MDB. The US Department of Justice is investigating real estate, investments and art works that were allegedly purchased with cash siphoned off from the fund. 

New Zealand's High Court earlier this week agreed that the family can replace Swiss trustees Rothschild with Cayman Islands-based FFP.

“I am satisfied that the replacement of the current trustees with trustees who are willing to ensure that proper legal steps are taken in the California proceedings is not only expedient but necessary to safeguard the trust assets” and “protect the interests of the beneficiaries,” Justice Kit Toogood said in his ruling, adding the New Zealand case “does not concern the merits of the allegations made by the US government”.

The Low family's assets include a $380 million stake in New York's Park Lane Hotel, a $107 million interest in EMI Music Publishing, a $35 million Bombardier jet, and a $30 million penthouse at Time Warner Center in New York.

Earlier this month, a Malaysian MP filed a civil lawsuit against the country's prime minister, Najib Razak, and his government, accusing him of wrongly exercising his lawful authority in relation to 1MDB. The 110-page claim filed in a Kuala Lumpur court by opposition MP Tony Pua detailed how $731 million that allegedly originated from 1MDB was transferred into Najib's personal bank accounts. 

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