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US seeks to recover more assets stolen from Malaysian fund

Associated Press logo Associated Press 6/15/2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department moved Thursday to recover $540 million in assets it says were stolen from Malaysia's troubled wealth fund.

It's part of an effort to seize luxury property, art and other ill-gotten assets linked to fraud at the government-controlled fund, which is intended to promote economic development projects in the Asian nation. Prosecutors are seeking a $165 million yacht known as the Equanimity, rights to the movie "Dumb and Dumber To," artwork by Picasso and Basquiat and millions of dollars in jewelry.

The move was the latest development in a complex money laundering scheme the Justice Department says was intended to enrich top-level officials of the fund, including some who are close to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Last summer, prosecutors moved to recover more than $1 billion diverted from the fund to pay for properties in New York and California, a $35 million jet, art by Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet and to help finance the movies, "Dumb and Dumber To" and "The Wolf of Wall Street."

Najib has denied wrongdoing.

The Justice Department says more than $4.5 billion has been stolen from the fund known informally as 1MDB. The case is the largest single action the Justice Department has taken under its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, which seeks to recover foreign bribery proceeds and embezzled funds.

"These cases involve billions of dollars that should have been used to help the people of Malaysia, but instead was used by a small number of individuals to fuel their astonishing greed," said Sandra R. Brown, acting U.S. attorney for the Central District of California. She described a "web of lies and bogus transactions" and said "we simply will not allow the United States to be a place where corrupt individuals can expect to hide assets and lavishly spend money that should be used for the benefit of citizens of other nations."

Some of the items at issue were given Leonardo DiCaprio's foundation for a charity auction, and "Wolf of Wall Street" producers also gave the actor an Academy Award won by Marlon Brando. Those items have been voluntarily returned, a DiCaprio spokesperson said Thursday.

"Wolf of Wall Street" was produced by Red Granite Pictures, which was co-founded by Najib's stepson. Red Granite producers presented DiCaprio with the Brando Oscar at the end of filming of the 2013 movie.

"Prior to the government's filing of the civil pleading today, Mr. DiCaprio initiated return of these items, which were received and accepted by him for the purpose of being included in an annual charity auction to benefit his eponymous foundation," a DiCaprio spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday. "He has also returned an Oscar originally won by Marlon Brando, which was given to Mr. DiCaprio as a set gift by Red Granite to thank him for his work on 'The Wolf of Wall Street.'"

Red Granite released a statement saying it is trying to resolve the case and is fully cooperating with the Justice Department.

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