U.S. government gets $700 million from fugitive Malaysian financier

The Justice Department is now $700 million richer, thanks to fugitive Malaysian businessman Jho Low.

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Low agreed to settle with the U.S. government for $700 million as a result of the billions of dollars that allegedly went missing from Malaysian state investment fund 1MDB.

The total amount recovered by the U.S. in the scandal is now at a record $1 billion. And although the money from this deal represents "the largest civil forfeiture ever" for the Justice Department, billions remain missing.

“As alleged in the complaints, Jho Low and others, including officials in Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates, engaged in a brazen multi-year conspiracy to launder money embezzled or otherwise misappropriated from 1MDB, and he used those funds, among other things, to engage in extravagant spending sprees, acquiring one-of-kind artwork and luxury real estate, gambling freely at casinos, and propping up his lavish lifestyle,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski in a statement.  “This settlement . . . sends a signal that the United States will not be a safe haven for the proceeds of corruption.”

Low is accused of misappropriating 1MDB money to acquire luxury real estate around the world -- from London to Beverly Hills -- as well as other high-end items like jewelry and art.  He also allegedly laundered money in Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Singapore.

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Financial powerhouse Goldman Sachs is also snarled in the scandal forcing CEO David Solomon to apologize to the Malaysian people earlier this year.

“It's very clear that the people of Malaysia were defrauded by many individuals, including the highest members of the prior government,” Solomon said during the bank’s earnings call in January. “Tim Leissner was a partner at our firm, by his own admission, was one of those people. For Leissner's role in that fraud, we apologize to the Malaysian people.”

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The DOJ also noted that $4.5 billion in funds was misappropriated from 2009-2015.

“A staggering amount of money embezzled from 1MDB at the expense of the people of Malaysia was laundered through the purchase of big-ticket assets in the U.S. and other nations. Thanks to this settlement, one of the men allegedly at the center of this massive scheme will lose all access to hundreds of millions of dollars,” said U.S. Attorney Nicola T. Hanna of the Central District of California. “The message, in this case, is simple: the United States is not a safe haven for pilfered funds."

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"Importantly, the agreement does not constitute an admission of guilt, liability or any form of wrongdoing by me or the asset owners," Mr. Low said in a statement via his attorneys, per the BBC.

Despite the settlement, there are still federal criminal charges of bribery and money laundering pending against Low, which were filed last year in New York.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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