FBI: Witnesses in 1MDB probe fear for their safety

KUALA LUMPUR Potential witnesses in the multi-billion dollar scandal at 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) are afraid to speak to US investigators as they fear for their safety, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said.

A total of US$4.5 billion (S$6 billion) was misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, according to dozens of civil lawsuits filed by the US Justice Department in the past two years.

1MDB is at the centre of money-laundering probes in at least six countries, including the US, Switzerland and Singapore.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak set up 1MDB in 2009 and served as chairman of its advisory board until last year. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The Prime Minister's office and 1MDB did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the FBI claims.

In a federal court filing in Los Angeles, the FBI requested that the names of its informants in the case be kept secret, after many expressed concerns of retaliation if they were found to have been in contact with the US government.

Individuals otherwise willing to provide information on the case have also told investigators that they were afraid that they would "place the safety and security of both themselves and their families at serious risk", according to a declaration in the filing by FBI agent Robert Heuchling.

The agent said identifying witnesses could result in intimidation or threats to their safety, citing Malaysian news reports of local officials and politicians who have been arrested for purportedly disclosing information linked to 1MDB.

The agent cited Malaysian press reports from Aug 30 that said the driver of former Malaysian Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail was shot in public as a possible warning against assisting the US government in the case.

Mr Abdul Gani had led investigations on 1MDB until he was replaced in 2015.

Last month, the US Justice Department asked for a stay on its civil lawsuits seeking to seize more than US$1 billion in assets allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB funds because it was conducting a related criminal probe.

The lawsuits filed by the department allege that the funds were stolen in four phases.

The lawsuits say those involved included Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, Mr Najib's stepson Riza Aziz, and Mr Khadem al Qubaisi, the former managing director of Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Co.- REUTERS