U.S. blocked from arresting $250 million superyacht Equanimity

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Magomed Khamatkhanov
April 19, 2018

Equanimity is 91.5-metre yacht built by Oceanco and delivered in 2014. Her owner is Malaysian financier, Jho Low. Previously, Equanimity was seized by the request of the US Government and then was in the spotlight of the US Government. Recently, an Indonesian court blocked U.S. efforts control a $250 million yacht connected to fraud scandal, on the basis that its arrest off the resort island of Bali was invalid and saying the vessel should be returned to its owner. The U.S. Justice Department contends that the Equanimity was acquired with money stolen in fraudulent schemes linked to the state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd. The Indonesian judge said that the seizure of the yacht in Bali by Indonesian police acting at the request of U.S. authorities was “invalid and legally baseless.” The judge ruled the seizure was invalid on a technicality. He said the U.S. request didn’t follow a 2006 law on mutual legal assistance because it didn’t go to the Justice Ministry, but directly to police. The ruling can’t be appealed.

Equanimity is owned by a trust that is controlled by a Malaysian financier, Jho Low, who the Justice Department alleges is a central player in a $4.5 billion fraud that involved siphoning money from 1MDB. The fund was set up by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2009 and is the focus of investigations in half a dozen countries. Both 1MDB and Mr. Najib have denied wrongdoing and said they would cooperate with any lawful international investigation. Multiple investigations in Malaysia into 1MDB closed without finding wrongdoing. Indonesian police said they accept the verdict and will soon turn over the 300-foot, Cayman Islands-flagged vessel to its owner, Equanimity (Cayman) Ltd. The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta referred queries to the Justice Department. The department didn’t respond to requests for comment. After the yacht’s seizure, a spokesman for Mr. Low said the Justice Department “is continuing with its pattern of global overreach—all based on entirely unsupported claims of wrongdoing.”

Indonesian police came aboard the Equanimity in Bali on Feb. 28 after the vessel had cruised Southeast Asian waters for months. FBI agents and Indonesian police searched the vessel and its computers and interrogated crew members. The boat has stayed in Bali with a crew on board while the case moved through the courts. Lawyers for Equanimity (Cayman) Ltd. said that the seizure didn’t follow Indonesian law on providing mutual assistance to foreign law-enforcement agencies. The U.S. has sought via civil lawsuits in California, since mid-2016, to seize almost $2 billion in assets allegedly bought with money stolen from 1MDB, including mansions, a Bombardier jet and royalties from the film “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The Equanimity is the largest single asset. The U.S. has asserted in court filings that U.S. laws were broken in the larger 1MDB case, and that gives it rights to those assets. The Justice Department had hoped to quickly transport the boat to the U.S. to sell. In the U.S., the government has filed a civil asset forfeiture case against the Equanimity, which means that the asset cannot be sold until the case is resolved. To take possession of the boat, the government has to prove it was bought with stolen money. All asset forfeitures tied to the 1MDB case are technically on hold, because the government asked for a temporary stay on all 17 cases while it completes a parallel criminal investigation into 1MDB affair and all dealings related.

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