Malaysia Working With Singapore to Recover Lost 1MDB Funds

(Bloomberg) -- Malaysia said it’s working with Singapore to recover money believed to have been embezzled from its state investment company 1MDB, as Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s administration acts on a pledge to cooperate with probes underway around the globe.

Investigators on both sides met near Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, where they also discussed collecting evidence, identifying Singapore witnesses and mapping a money trail to detect funds and assets that still exist, according to a statement from a Malaysian task force overseeing 1MDB probes. Singapore has seized hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and jailed bankers over transactions linked to the scandal-plagued fund.

Mahathir, who took power earlier this month, is trying to uncover the extent of alleged embezzlement and money laundering at 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which was set up by former premier Najib Razak in 2009 to attract foreign investment. Investigators in the U.S. and Europe had complained of a lack of assistance from Malaysian authorities under the previous administration.

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A cooperative Malaysia could help investigators around the world piece together how billions may have been embezzled and laundered through major financial centers in the U.S., Europe and Asia -- to finance what the U.S. said were spending sprees by corrupt officials and their associates. Najib’s government and 1MDB had repeatedly insisted all its funds were accounted for.

Members of Malaysia’s 1MDB task force met with officials from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice last week to discuss the focus and direction of probes. Swiss prosecutors have said they wanted to start talks with Malaysian counterparts as soon as possible to better coordinate various criminal probes into the sprawling case.

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In recent years, Singapore ordered two Swiss private banks to shut, fined other large banks, seized assets and banned at least eight people from the finance industry for their actions on 1MDB-related transactions. Singapore authorities said this month they’ve cooperated extensively with their Malaysian counterparts on past requests for information on 1MDB.

Money-Laundering

Prosecutors in Singapore have described 1MDB as the country’s largest and most complex money-laundering case. They said its banking and financial systems were used as conduits for billions of dollars siphoned from 1MDB, aided by officers from the fund and bankers in the city state who ignored suspicious and high-risk transactions for their own purposes.

Singapore was represented by nine officials from its Attorney-General’s Chambers, the Commercial Affairs Department -- the financial crime-fighting unit of the police -- and the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Malaysian investigators include those from the attorney general’s office, police, anti-corruption commission and central bank.

“Our Malaysian counterparts have requested for our assistance in relation to their 1MDB-related investigations,” the Singapore police said earlier on Thursday in response to Bloomberg News queries.

Malaysia’s 1MDB task force said last week an FBI letter in November 2016 to its former anti-graft chief hadn’t been responded to. A DOJ request for mutual legal assistance to Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali in September 2017 wasn’t fulfilled and was postponed with the reason it would interfere with investigations done by Malaysian authorities, and no cooperation was extended, according to the task force. Apandi has been placed on leave by Mahathir.

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