An online seminar that certain powerful entities had sought to ban took place in Kuwait Tuesday night, bringing together speakers on 1MDB from across the globe.
Kuwait is the latest country to emerge as a centre-point in the money laundering scandal involving former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak and the so-called 1MDB development fund and the seminar had been arranged (following exposes primarily on Sarawak Report) by the Kuwait Association for Protecting Public Funds, the country’s premier anti-corruption institution.
The chairman of the association revealed that he had threatened to resign following a demand by the Ministry of Social Affairs that he cancel the conference. As part of an apparent compromise guests were therefore requested not to mention the names of any of the public figures involved in the hitherto secret dealings in Kuwait, orchestrated by the 1MDB fugitive financier Jho Low.
Sarawak Report has recently revealed that Kuwait entities, working with major state owned Chinese construction companies, the Silk Road & Belt fund and also ICBC bank, continued to process billions of dollars of suspected 1MDB related kickbacks from Malaysia during the course of 2016 up until the final months of last year.
The existence of this network explains how the 1MDB ‘fixer’ Jho Low was able to continue to launder vast sums siphoned out of Malaysia long after money laundering alerts had been called by the US, Swiss and Singapore authorities in 2016, freezing his assets and closing the doors of most international banks.
The Sarawak Report editor outlined to a panel that included Kuwait parliamentarians, a Kuwaiti law professor and the head of the Kuwait Bar Association, how evidence now shows that kickbacks from the Chinese state owned company CCCC, in return for the 100% inflation of the East Coast Rail Link contract and an up-front 88% payment of $2 billion for two major pipe line projects in Malaysia, were funnelled through companies set up by Sheikh Sabah, son of the then prime minister of Kuwait, using accounts at ICBC bank.
In one example, Sarawak Report detailed how $1.02 billion was sent by CCCC in Chinese yuan to the ICBC account of a company owned by Sheikh Sabah named Al Asbah International in August 2017, following an agreement to meet repayments urgently needed on 1MDB’s debts which had so far been born by the guarantor, IPIC in Abu Dhabi.
Sheikh Sabah immediately transferred the cash to his own account at the same Kuwait branch of ICBC bank. A couple of days later $700 million of that money (roughly 2/3) was transferred to an account held at the same branch of ICBC bank by a company recently incorporated in the Cayman Islands called Silk Road Southeastasia Real Estate Limited, that had earlier in the month committed to buy 1MDB property in Penang for the same amount. The sole shareholder of Silk Road Southeastasia Real Estate Limited was also Sheikh Sabah.
Tony Pua, a Malaysian parliamentarian who has followed the 1MDB scandal since its inception then confirmed that Malaysian authorities had established that the $700 million (4,253,000,000 CNY/ RM2.7bn) was then paid into the ICBC account in Kuala Lumpur of the Ministry of Finance subsidiary company Sentuhan Budiman Sdn Bhd that had acquired the Penang property from 1MDB.
Tony Pua then astounded listeners by announcing that he was aware following Malaysian investigations whilst he was in the Finance Ministry that the money was then immediately transferred to yet another ICBC account this time at the bank’s branch in Abu Dhabi belonging to IPIC, to which 1MDB owed the debt money.
It means that ICBC bank curated the entire set of transfers in the matter of a few days in August of an eye-watering $1 billion plus from the Beijing account of the Chinese state owned company CCCC* to the Kuwait account of a company secretly owned by the son of the Kuwait prime minister; then into his own account at the same bank; then into the account of a Cayman Island company held at the same bank secretly owned by the same Sheikh; then over to an ICBC account in KL of a Ministry of Finance owned company (on the excuse of the purchase of a 1MDB property); then straight on to an ICBC account in Abu Dhabi in the name of payments due on 1MDB – all in a matter of days.
No official at ICBC bank during the later half of 2017 could have been unaware that the Minister of Finance was struggling to repay debts owed to Abu Dhabi’s IPIC in order to cover up the billions that had gone missing from 1MDB nor that CCCC had been exposed over a covert deal to pay the debts in return for an inflated contract.
Sarawak Report and others were writing about the matter every day and the US Department of Justice had spelt out the thefts clearly a year before. The use of the so-called off-shore Silk Road Southeast Asia Real Estate Company Limited was in keeping with the much publicised classic Jho Low modus operandi by that time of using grand sounding off-shore names associated with well know companies in his attempts to launder money from the fund.
From the United States, Stanford University, Professor Amit Seru, an expert in criminal finance, at this point confirmed that there was no way that a bank such as ICBC would not have seen the red flags in this massive circle of transactions. In fact, he confirmed that the anti money laundering regulations set up to prevent such fraud would have detected each and every bank operation ever performed by Jho Low:
“This scam wasn’t even sophisticated and it is sad because any financial institution would have realised there was a problem.. all of the financial institutions involved [in 1MDB] have to be accountable”
Professor Seru went on to stress that it was not the legislation on these matters that was at fault, but the knowing failure to enforce by banks who were in a position to make ‘ridiculous’ amounts of money by working with corrupt authorities.
The professor listed Goldman Sachs as his ‘top target’ to be held accountable, saying that the $3 billion currently being demanded in compensation by the Malaysian government over the knowingly corrupt $6.5 billion raised in bonds for 1MDB was far too little. “Goldman Sachs have a lot of money and they should pay, it is too low an amount” he said.
However, today’s new revelation is that not only the US’s major bank but also China’s biggest bank has also been up to its neck in processing stolen Malaysian money.
Asked where Jho Low is presently hiding, Tony Pua told the audience that the Chinese authorities had assured Malaysia that they do not know where Jho Low is and would turn him over if he is found to be in China.
However, Pua suggested that the wealth of embarrassing information that is plainly available about high level cooperation in China over 1MDB thefts might have encouraged powerful entities in that country to ‘protect’ Jho Low from exposure in a Malaysian court.
Sarawak Report confirmed that it has seen invoices for long stays in 6 star hotels in China, which were covered from the ICBC bank account of a company in Kuwait owned by Sheikh Sabah and funded by CCCC on behalf of Jho Low.
(*updated. The route from Ministry of Finance to CCCC Beijing is not confirmed).