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(Bloomberg) -- A New Zealand Court has ruled that Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho’s family can change trustees holding their assets, keeping alive a fight to stop the U.S. from seizing $650 million in real estate and business investments allegedly acquired with stolen funds.
The family of the businessman known as Jho Low claims the Swiss trustees holding their assets are afraid to fight back against the U.S. for fear of being prosecuted in a global game of investment hide-and-seek set off by the alleged disappearance of more than $3.5 billion of the $8 billion raised by 1Malaysia Development Bhd. The U.S. Justice Department is targeting real estate, investments and art works that were allegedly bought with money siphoned off from the state-owned investment and development fund known as 1MDB.
New Zealand’s High Court in Auckland on Friday agreed that the family can replace Swiss trustees Rothschild with Cayman Islands-based FFP Ltd.
“I am satisfied that the replacement of the current trustees with trustees who are willing to ensure that proper legal steps are taken in the California proceedings is not only expedient but necessary to safeguard the trust assets” and “protect the interests of the beneficiaries,” Justice Kit Toogood said in his ruling. He added the New Zealand case “does not concern the merits of the allegations made by the U.S. Government.”
The Low assets at issue include a $380 million stake in New York’s Park Lane Hotel, a $107-million interest in EMI Music Publishing, a $35 million Bombardier Jet, and a $30 million penthouse at Time Warner Center in New York.
Low, who is known for partying with Hollywood celebrities Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, is also friends with Riza Aziz, a stepson of Malaysia’s prime minister and a producer of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which the U.S. alleges was also funded with stolen money. Low has said he provided consulting to 1MDB that didn’t break any laws, while the fund and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak have both denied wrongdoing.
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