KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - The deputy prime minister of Malaysia said on Monday the country had asked Interpol to help locate a Malaysian financier over a multi-billion dollar scandal at a state fund, but that it was now sure there was no case against him.
The U.S. Justice Department has alleged in civil lawsuits that about $4.5 billion (£3.4 billion) was misappropriated from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) by high-level officials of the fund and their associates.
The department last year filed lawsuits seeking to seize more than $1 billion in assets allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB funds, including those bought by Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho. In August, the department asked for a stay on the civil lawsuits as it was conducting a related criminal probe.
The assets include a private jet, a hotel and real estate in New York, and a $107 million interest in EMI Music Publishing bought by the financier, also known as Jho Low, the lawsuits said.
Low, whose whereabouts are unknown, has not been charged with any crime.
In response to a question by an opposition member on whether Malaysian police would seek Interpol help to locate, arrest and extradite Jho Low, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said:
“On this case, we have asked Interpol to find the individual... We are very confident that Interpol has acted professionally and the police have yet to receive any detailed information from Interpol,” he said.
“...But we are confident that whatever that has been done by various parties at the international level, especially by intelligence agencies, has been concluded and we are confident that the case is no longer relevant,” he added.
In a statement later in the day, Zahid said police had already closed the case “and there has been no further request from Interpol”.
Zahid denied “social media reports” that he said had “manipulated” his comments on Malaysia asking for Interpol’s assistance, and also said his earlier response “clearly states that there is no case to be convicted”.
It was not immediately clear when Malaysia asked Interpol for help, or which social media reports Zahid was referring to.
A spokesman for Low could not be reached for comment. Low has previously denied any wrongdoing, saying that the U.S. Justice Department’s actions were “a further example of global overreach in pursuit of a deeply flawed case”.
Interpol did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
1MDB, founded by Prime Minister Najib Razak, is facing money laundering probes in at least six countries including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.
Low is accused in the lawsuits of using 1MDB-linked funds to buy Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio a $3.2 million Picasso painting, and giving about $9 million in jewellery to Australian model Miranda Kerr.
DiCaprio and Kerr have turned over the items to U.S. authorities and promised to cooperate in the 1MDB probe.
The lawsuits also said $681 million from 1MDB was transferred to the account of “Malaysian Official 1”, which U.S. and Malaysian sources have previously identified as Najib.
Najib has denied any wrongdoing. Malaysia’s attorney general cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Reporting by Rozanna Latiff, Joseph Sipalan and Liz Lee; Editing by Nick Macfie