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A superyacht saga involving the U.S. Department of Justice, a former Malaysian prime minister and a billionaire yacht owner accused of bilking $4.5 billion

The $250 million superyacht Equanimity has been the target of a U.S. Justice Department investigation.

The $250 million superyacht Equanimity has been the target of a U.S. Justice Department investigation.

It is pulp fiction for the yachting industry. The year-long saga involving a former Malaysian prime minister, the U.S. Department of Justice and a Chinese billionaire took another turn last week as the $250 million superyacht Equanimity was handed over to Malaysian authorities who vowed they would sell the yacht.

Owned by playboy financier Low Taek Jho—nicknamed Jho Low--Equanimity has been a pawn in a battle between Low and the U.S. Department of Justice after U.S. attorneys alleged that the financier had siphoned $4.5 billion from the Malaysian public equity fund 1MDB to buy the yacht, properties in New York valued at $300 million, and other investments around the world. Low used the yacht to entertain the rich and famous. He gave Hollywood starlet Miranda Kerr $9 million worth of jewelry aboard Equanimity.

In June 2017, the U.S. Attorney’s office filed a 251-page lawsuit against Low, arguing there was a conspiracy between a high-ranking Malayasian official, who turned out to be former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Low. Both used the public fund for their personal use. Razak deposited $700 million from the fund into his personal account, while Low, listed as the fund’s financial director, steered billions into his own accounts. Since June, U.S. government agents have scoured the world for assets allegedly bought with stolen IMDB money.

On February 28, Indonesian police, backed by F.B.I. agents, seized Equanimity in Bali, Indonesia, at the request of the U.S. government. The Department of Justice asked an Indonesian court to allow them to take the boat back to the U.S. and sell it. The U.S. was confident of its case and hired a crew for the return trip to the U.S. On April 17, an Indonesian judge surprised everyone by ruling that the seizure was not legal and ordered the boat to be returned to Low.

The July ouster of Malaysian prime minister Razak, , however, at the center of the fund scandal, changed the storyline again. Incoming Malaysian Attorney-General Tommy Thomas immediately charged the former prime minister and Low with fraud and other crimes that would involve serious jail time.

Thomas said the yacht, now considered property of the IMDB fund, would be sold in the next four months. “The money that we get will be transferred into a fixed bank account which will be granted to any party who can successfully establish the ownership of the yacht in a civil suit,” Thomas told ChannelNewsAsia.com. He invited Low to claim ownership, though Low understands returning to Malaysia would most likely result in prison rather than sunset cruises on Equanimity.

The U.S. Justice Department said it wasn’t involved in turning over Equanimity to Malaysia. DOJ officials said they had ordered crew members to obey the instructions of the Indonesian government. Low’s attorneys claim in the U.S. court case that the F.B.I. was instrumental in the hand-over to the Malaysian government.

Seven other countries have since opened criminal investigations into the 1MDB fund. Kerr returned the $9 million worth of jewelry to U.S. officials.

Low remains incognito. Some observers said he is lying low in a luxury hotel in China. Low said through his U.S. lawyers that he would not travel to any jurisdiction where his guilt had been predetermined. “It is little wonder Mr. Low believes there is no jurisdiction where he can get a fair hearing in this matter,” said his attorneys in a statement. “To reiterate: Mr. Low will not submit to any jurisdiction where guilt has been predetermined by politics and self-interest overrules legal process.”

The saga of Equanimity will no doubt continue. 

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