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By Agustinus Beo Da Costa
JAKARTA (Reuters) - An Indonesian court ruled on Tuesday that a luxury yacht linked to a corruption scandal at a Malaysian state fund was wrongfully impounded in Bali at the request of U.S. authorities and ordered the vessel to be released, police said.
The Cayman Islands-flagged Equanimity was impounded by Indonesia in February as part of a multi-billion dollar corruption investigation launched by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and tied to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The South Jakarta State Court had stated that the seizure of the yacht on February was "illegal and not based on the law", Rudy Heriyanto Adi, Director of Indonesia's Special Economic Crimes unit, told a news conference.
Since the ruling was final, police would return the ship to its owner Equanimity Cayman Ltd, he said.
A lawyer representing the owner of the ship, which the United States had said was bought by Jho Low, a key financier linked to 1MDB, welcomed the ruling.
"It's clear that the seizure of the ship only happened because there was a request from the FBI but it was not based on law. But with this ruling it is clear all foreign requests must follow procedure," said lawyer Andi Simangungsong.
1MDB is at the centre of money-laundering probes in at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore. A total of $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, according to civil lawsuits filed by the DOJ.
In August 2017, the DOJ asked for a stay on its civil lawsuits seeking to seize more than $1.7 billion in assets allegedly bought with stolen 1MDB funds because it was conducting a related criminal probe.
Among the assets sought is Equanimity, cited as a 92-metre yacht bought by Malaysian financier Low, named as a key figure in the U.S. lawsuits.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak set up 1MDB in 2009 and previously served as chairman of its advisory board. He and the fund have denied any wrongdoing.
Low's whereabouts are unknown but he has previously denied wrongdoing.
(Writing by Ed Davies and Kanupriya Kapoor, Editing by William Maclean)