US justice department seeking to seize a total of about $1.7bn in assets it says were bought with misappropriated funds
Nearly $30m (23.5m) allegedly stolen from a sovereign wealth fund established by Malaysias prime minister was used to buy jewellery for the prime ministers wife, including a rare 22-carat pink diamond set in a necklace, according to filings by the US justice department in a civil lawsuit.
The filings lodged at the US district court in Los Angeles on Thursday did not identify the prime minister, Najib Razak, or his wife, Rosmah Mansor, by name, but said the jewellery purchases were for the wife of Malaysian Official 1.
Malaysian and US government sources have previously confirmed that Malaysian Official 1 refers to Najib.
The department is seeking to seize a total of about $1.7bn in assets that it says were bought with misappropriated money from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund, known as 1MDB, including a Picasso painting that was given to the actor Leonardo DiCaprio and the rights to two Hollywood films.
The jewellery purchases were allegedly arranged by a Malaysian financier, Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, who is also accused of giving DiCaprio the Picasso.
A spokesman for DiCaprio said the actor had begun proceedings to transfer ownership of the $3.2m artwork to the US government, having in July 2016 initiated the return of gifts he had received from financiers connected to the 1MDB case.
The spokesman said DiCaprio had accepted the gifts to raise funds in an auction for his environmental foundation.
The accusations will provide further ammunition for Najibs political rivals, who often criticise his wife for lavish spending. They come at an awkward time for the Malaysian leader as he had been expected to call an election this year.
The diamond necklace set alone cost $27.3m, according to the latest filings in a lawsuit that was launched in July last year.
Rosmahs aide did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The prime ministers office said in a statement early on Friday that it was concerned by the unnecessary and gratuitous naming of certain matters and individuals that are only relevant to domestic political manipulation and interference. Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
A total of $4.5bn have been misappropriated from 1MDB, the justice department said on Thursday. The fund was set up by Najib in 2009 to promote economic development.
Low, whose whereabouts are unknown, could not be reached for comment.
In a statement issued through a representative, Low said the justice departments actions were a further example of global overreach in pursuit of a deeply flawed case.
He added: The US Department of Justices latest move continues its inappropriate efforts to seize assets despite not having proven that any improprieties have occurred.
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