A $250-million-yacht complete with a massage room, a sauna, a helicopter landing pad, a cinema, and gold-leaf fittings that once hosted celeb-studded parties—and is now key to Malaysia’s efforts to recover funds related to the 1MDB scandal—has found a buyer.
The Malaysian government announced today (April 3) that it had sold the vessel “at market value” to Genting Malaysia, a hospitality-focused conglomerate, for $126 million, with the funds expected to be collected by the end of this month. The government said that it was the highest-value recovery to date in the eight months since it started the process to recover some of the billions of dollars embezzled from 1MDB, a state investment fund set up to back development projects.
The 300-foot super-luxury yacht was seized in Bali last year and sailed back to Malaysia in August. It has been docked at a navy facility in Langkawi for the past five months in order to preserve its condition. US prosecutors alleged that the Cayman-flagged-yacht was purchased by mysterious financier Jho Low in an intricate series of transactions with $250 million in laundered funds.
The announcement of the yacht’s sale comes on the same day as former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, after many delays, stands trial on multiple charges of money laundering related to 1MDB funds. He is expected to face further criminal proceedings over charges of abuse of power and criminal breach of trust. He has denied wrongdoing and said the charges are politically motivated. Najib suffered a shock defeat in elections last year to his mentor and former leader Mahathir Mohamad after almost a decade in power.
Low’s whereabouts are unknown, but he is believed to be in China. Malaysia issued an arrest warrant in December in absentia against Low, who has also denied any wrongdoing.
In a statement issued by his lawyers Wednesday, Low criticized Malaysia’s government for accepting a “bargain-basement sale price” for the yacht in what he called “a failed PR stunt.”
In addition to multiple charges of money laundering filed against him in Malaysia, Low has been charged in the US with conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to bribe officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi, allegedly with the aim of directing 1MDB business to Goldman Sachs.
The US justice department, which has also been investigating the 1MDB scandal, had earlier filed a forfeiture petition for the yacht, and for a long list of other assets (paywall) linked to the scandal—including a clear-acrylic grand piano gifted to Miranda Kerr by Low, and a Monet painting.
Some of the ill-gotten gains purchased with 1MDB funds can never be recovered—for example, the millions of dollars spent on champagne for the celebrities and financiers Low cultivated.
Update, April 4: This story was updated with a statement from Jho Low.