After seizing hundreds of millions of assets tied to the 1MDB embezzlement scandal, the DoJ is finally starting to return some of the money to the Malaysian people - though the roughly $200 million that has been handed over pales in comparison to the $4.5 billion that the DoJ believes was stolen from public development fund by associates of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
According to the Financial Times and Bloomberg, the monies were returned under the auspices of a DoJ program called the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. Malaysian AG Tommy Thomas said that the first tranche of money returned was $57 million forfeited by Red Granite Pictures, the production studio that helped produce the Martin Scorsese film "Wolf of Wall Street", starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
WSJ has extensively reported how fugitive Malaysian financier Jho Low, the alleged mastermind of the scheme, used money stolen from 1MDB to help finance the movie; he also purchased a yacht, real estate and millions of dollars worth of jewelry, including diamonds given by Low to supermodel Miranda Kerr.
The US will "soon" turn over the next tranche - some $139 million seized after the sale of stake in NYC's Park Lane Hotel, which had allegedly been bought using 1MDB money. Almost all of the money seized by DoJ will be returned, minus $3 million in 'investigation costs' that will be subtracted from the total.
As authorities from Singapore to Switzerland investigate crimes stemming from the looting of 1MDB, the US has filed forfeiture complaints to seize $1.7 billion in assets allegedly purchased with ill-gotten gains from 1MDB.
"1MDB asset recovery efforts across the globe are still ongoing, and Malaysia is optimistic of recovering further monies in the coming months," Thomas said.
The announcement of the DoJ's decision to begin turning over the funds comes just one day after Roger Ng, one of two Goldman Sachs bankers indicted in the scandal, pleaded not guilty in a Brooklyn federal court to charges of bribery and money laundering after being extradited from Malaysia.
A court in Singapore has also ordered the seizure of $50 million allegedly stemming from 1MDB that will eventually be credited to a 1MDB recovery account; in total, Malaysia has recovered some $322 million in 1MDB assets since the investigation began.