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The global financial scandal that has spread from Malaysia to Hollywood

Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Chubby and bespectacled, Low hardly looked like a Hollywood player. But he allegedly used 1MDB money to throw star-studded Las Vegas parties and shower celebrities with expensive gifts. DiCaprio has returned a Picasso painting reportedly given to him by Low.

Facing a long list of indictments in the U.S., Low is said to have fled to China and has issued repeated statements of innocence on a personal website, accusing the Justice Department of attempting "to reach a guilty verdict via the media."

What about the former Malaysian leader?

Najib, who lost his 2018 reelection bid as pressure from the scandal mounted, is on bail awaiting trial in Malaysia on 25 counts of corruption and money laundering involving $550 million related to the fund, which he oversaw.

The 65-year-old maintains his innocence, but he issued a public apology for "shortcomings and mistakes" -- itself a stunning admission for a long-cocooned leader who had enjoyed near total power.

A February 2020 trial date has been set for Rosmah Mansor -- Najib's wife and Riza's mother -- who is alleged to have used government funds to finance extravagant shopping trips abroad.

 

Shortly after Najib's election defeat, authorities raided several properties linked to the family and seized more than $260 million in luxury goods, including watches, jewelry, silks and hundreds of designer handbags -- earning Rosmah comparisons to Imelda Marcos, the former Philippine first lady known for her shoe collection.

Who else is under investigation?

The case has also reached into U.S. politics. In May, Pras Michel, a founder of the Fugees, pleaded not guilty to conspiring with Low to divert nearly $1 million in 1MDB funds to Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign without disclosing their source.

And last year the Wall Street Journal reported that Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy, a vice chairman of President Trump's 2016 campaign, discussed a deal with Low that would have paid him tens of millions of dollars to lobby the Justice Department to drop its 1MDB investigation. Broidy has not been charged.

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