Indonesia is returning 1MDB-linked luxury yacht to Malaysia

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The super yacht is said to be in waters off Batam, near Singapore.

Indonesia is returning a luxury yacht allegedly bought with funds stolen from a Malaysian state investment company after a months-long legal battle, a police official said on Sunday.

The Equanimity, believed to be worth some US$250 million, is on its way to a border location where it will be transferred to Malaysia, said Daniel Silitonga, deputy director of economic crimes at Indonesia’s national police. He said the yacht is currently near Batam Island close to Singapore, but declined to say when or where the transfer will happen.

Indonesian police working with the FBI seized the yacht off Bali in February but faced a legal challenge from a Cayman Islands company registered as its owner.

The US Department of Justice alleges in civil lawsuits that huge sums of money were stolen from Malaysia’s 1MDB investment fund – set up by former Prime Minister Najib Razak – in a huge fraud and money-laundering scam.

Protesters in Kuala Lumpur holding a model of the luxury yacht Equanimity and pictures of Jho Low dressed as a pirate in April, 2018. Photo: AP

The fund and Najib, who lost an election earlier this year, deny any wrongdoing.

The suits allege US$1.7 billion worth of assets were allegedly bought with the stolen funds, which US officials are trying to recover. Those assets include a 90-metre (300-foot) yacht bought by Jho Low, a former unofficial adviser to 1MDB.

Bilateral ties between Malaysia and Indonesia are close with Mahathir visiting Jakarta in June, making it his first official tour of the region after a stunning election victory in May over Najib.

Malaysia’s anti-corruption authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Jho Low, accused of being a key figure in the scandal surrounding sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Low, a flamboyant playboy known for partying with Hollywood A-listers, is a close associate of Najib and allegedly conspired with him to loot the investment vehicle.

He was believed to have been sailing around Asia on the luxury yacht before it was seized.

Low – full name Low Taek Jho – whose exact whereabouts are unknown, condemned Malaysia’s action to take over the yacht saying it was “politically motivated”.

“The action of the Mahathir government in illegitimately taking this asset shows just how quickly the rule of law disappears in Mahathir’s regime,” according to a statement issued by his legal team. “Actions like this make it increasingly clear that there is no jurisdiction where the issues in this case can be subject to a fair hearing thanks to a global media circus fuelled by politically motivated parties whose aim is to convict Mr Low in public arena.”

The Equanimity’s lavish amenities include a helicopter landing pad, plunge pool, gymnasium and a cinema.

It was built in 2014 by the Dutch yacht manufacturer Oceano, which received detailed instructions from Low about its outfitting, according to the Justice Department’s asset recovery case.