June 8, 2018 / 8:50 AM / 6 months ago

UPDATE 1-Malaysia seeks to arrest financier Jho Low over 1MDB scandal

(Adds Singapore statement in paras 7-9)

By Joseph Sipalan and Rozanna Latiff

KUALA LUMPUR, June 8 (Reuters) - Malaysia is seeking to arrest financier Low Taek Jho, believed to be residing abroad, over his involvement in a graft scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Friday.

Low, popularly known as Jho Low, was regarded as close to former premier Najib Razak and his family, and is seen as a central figure in the 1MDB scandal, which is the subject of multi-billion-dollar money laundering investigations underway in Malaysia and around the world.

"We are trying to arrest Jho Low, but he is not in the country, and we don't have extradition rights in the country where he is staying," Mahathir told reporters.

He did not say which country Low was in.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) had issued an arrest warrant for Low, as well as Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil, a director of former 1MDB unit SRC International, a source familiar with the matter had earlier told Reuters.

The MACC was also seeking assistance from authorities in countries where Low was believed to be staying, the source said, declining to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Singapore authorities said on Friday they had issued arrest warrants in 2016 for Low and his associate, Tan Kim Loong, and requested an Interpol notice.

"Following investigations, the Singapore authorities issued warrants of arrest in April/May 2016 and at Singapore's request, INTERPOL published Red Notices in October 2016, for Low Taek Jho and Tan Kim Loong, who are suspected to have committed offences in Singapore and cannot be located here," Singapore's Attorney-General's Chambers, Singapore Police Force and the Monetary Authority of Singapore said in a joint statement on Friday.

This is the first time Singapore authorities have said publicly that an arrest warrant was issued against Low.

Low and 1MDB have denied any wrongdoing. Tan Kim Loong could not be reached for comment.

Low advised on investments and negotiated deals for 1MDB, though he never held any official role in the fund.

The source said Malaysia is also preparing warrants for Roger Ng, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc banker, and 1MDB's ex-chief Shahrol Halmi.

1MDB was founded by Najib in 2009 and is the subject of money-laundering probes in at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.

The U.S. Department of Justice has alleged that more than $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB, and about $700 million of that went to Najib's personal bank accounts.

Najib has denied any wrongdoing.

On Thursday, MACC issued a notice for Low and Nik Faisal to contact the commission immediately to help in its investigation. Low, through his lawyers, said he would cooperate.

Empowered by a new government elected last month, the agency has relaunched a probe into why $10.6 million from SRC was transferred into Najib's bank account.

Anti-graft agents have questioned both Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, following his shock election defeat last month to former mentor-turned-foe Mahathir.

Goldman Sachs had helped 1MDB raise $6.5 billion in three bond sales in 2012 and 2013 to invest in energy projects and real estate to boost the Malaysian economy.

Instead, more than $2.5 billion raised from those bonds was misappropriated and used to buy artwork, luxury properties in New York and London, and to pay off gambling debts in Las Vegas, the U.S. Justice Department has alleged. (Additional reporting by Anshuman Daga in SINGAPORE; Editing by Michael Perry and Darren Schuettler)

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