U.S. seeks suspension of court action on 1MDB luxury yacht Equanimity

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department wants to suspend its legal efforts to take possession of the superyacht Equanimity, impounded as part of a hunt for assets linked to the multi-billion dollar 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal.

The Cayman Islands-flagged $250 million luxury yacht Equanimity is seen in the waters of Batam, Riau Islands, Indonesia August 6, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/M N Kanwa/ via REUTERS

Indonesia handed over the $250 million Equanimity to Malaysia on Monday.

The U.S. Justice Department, which had sought custody of Equanimity as part of its anti-kleptocracy investigation into 1MDB, said proceedings in the U.S. courts should be suspended until it finds out what Malaysia would do with the yacht.

“The government proposes that all proceedings in this action be suspended in order to give the government and any interested claimant the opportunity to inquire of Malaysia through formal channels what its intentions are with respect to the defendant yacht,” it said in a filing to the California Central District Court on Monday.

Malaysia’s Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng told reporters on Monday that the government planned to take inventory of items on the yacht and open the vessel for public viewing, before eventually selling it “at the highest price”.

A total of $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, according to civil lawsuits filed by the U.S. Justice Department

Malaysian authorities are seeking to arrest Low Taek Jho, the financier who allegedly bought the Equanimity, a 91 meter (300-foot) yacht registered in the Cayman Islands. Lawsuits have identified him as a central figure in the 1MDB scandal, but his whereabouts are unknown.

Meanwhile, owners of Equanimity said in a separate filing to a U.S. court that it is opposed to any suspension of proceedings and contested the handover of the vessel to Malaysia.

They filed a petition in the U.S. court challenging what it said was the “unlawful and extrajudicial” seizure of the yacht. The petition questioned the lawfulness of a warrant issued by the Indonesian police to turnover the vessel to Malaysia.

The yacht was handed over to Malaysian authorities at the Indonesian island of Batam, and was expected to reach Malaysia’s Port Klang on Tuesday.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad ousted his predecessor Najib Razak in an election in May, and immediately launched an investigation into 1MDB.

The fund, founded by Najib, is at the center of money-laundering probes in at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; writing by Praveen Menon; editing by Michael Perry

Tagged ,