On August 5, 2021, the United States Department of Justice announced it has returned an additional $452 million in embezzled 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) funds it has forfeited to the people of Malaysia. The U.S. has now returned over $1.2 billion in forfeited 1MDB funds.
Court documents show the funds from 1MDB, formerly Malaysia’s investment development fund were laundered through major financial institutions worldwide, including in the U.S., Switzerland, Singapore, and Luxembourg.
DOJ Civil Forfeiture Actions
Starting in 2016, the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS) of the Justice Department’s (DOJ) Criminal Division and U.S. Attorneys’ Office filed 41 civil forfeiture actions in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and one in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The suits led to the seizure of over $1.7 billion in stolen assets. This recovery is the largest to date under the DOJ’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. The funds include both funds finally forfeited and funds the DOJ helped in recovering and returning. The DOJ continues to litigate actions against additional assets allegedly linked to this scheme.
The civil forfeiture complaints allege that, from 2009 through 2015, high-level officials of 1MDB and their associates, and Low Taek Jho (aka Jho Low), allegedly misappropriated more than $4.5 billion in funds belonging to 1MDB through a criminal conspiracy involving international money laundering and embezzlement. The forfeiture complaints allege some of the embezzlement proceeds were used to pay bribes.
While the Malaysian government established 1MDB to promote economic development in Malaysia through global partnerships and foreign direct investment, instead the funds held by 1MDB and proceeds of bonds issued for and on behalf of 1MDB. The funds were taken and used to buy various extravagant items, including luxury homes and properties in Beverly Hills, New York, and London; a 300-foot superyacht; and fine art by Monet and Van Gogh. The funds were invested into numerous businesses, including a boutique hotel in Beverly Hills, a movie company that made “The Wolf of Wall Street” while the embezzlement scheme transpired. The scheme also invested in the redevelopment of the Park Lane Hotel in Manhattan and shares in EMI, the largest private music-rights holder.
In March, U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer in Los Angeles denied the DOJ’s efforts to seize $325 million from an oil exploration joint-venture linked to the 1MDB scandal. Judge Fischer granted Petrosaudi’s request to dismiss the DOJ’s forfeiture claim on the basis that the government had failed to make an adequate allegation between the money and any criminal offense.
U.S. firms were involved in the 1MDB scandal. Goldman Sachs entered into corruption-related settlements in both the U.S. and Malaysia for its role in raising funds. Large U.S. law firms were involved in helping the alleged embezzlers make investments in the U.S.
 U.S. Department of Justice, Over $1 Billion in Misappropriated 1MDB Funds Now Repatriated to Malaysia, Press Rel. 21-740, Aug. 5, 2021.
 Hugo Miller and Jonathan Browning, 1MDB Case Hits Setback as Judge Rules Against U.S. Justice Department, Bloomberg, March 25, 2021,