UAE’s envoy to the United States linked to 1MDB scandal, says report

US$4.5 billion fraud - Published on 1 Jul 2017


Hackers leak emails from UAE ambassador to US

COMPANIES connected to the United Arab Emirates' ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, are alleged to have received US$66 million (RM283 million) from offshore companies that investigators said held funds misappropriated from 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

The Wall St Journal (WSJ) reported today it had reviewed court and investigative documents related to investigations into 1MDB and Yousef.

WSJ said there had been no public disclosures as to the purpose of the transfers, and Yousef had declined to comment on them.

Hacked emails leaked to the media also linked Yousef's business partner Shaher Awartani to Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, whom the US Justice Department says is the central conspirator in the alleged US$4.5 billion 1MDB fraud.

According to the report, Yousef and Low have been associates since the early 2000s, and Low has described his friendship with Yousef in interviews over the years.

Singapore investigations

A Singapore criminal case against a Swiss banker showed that US$50 million in payments were made to Yousef's companies, including Densmore Investments Ltd in the British Virgin Islands and Silver Coast Construction & Boring in the UAE.

In laying out their case against the banker, Singapore prosecutors described the payments to the two companies as “intended to be used in connection with an act which may constitute criminal conduct.”

The banker pleaded guilty to failing to report potentially criminal transactions involving those companies and to lying to authorities about them.

The Singapore proceedings referred to the companies but did not mention Yousef

In separate documents reviewed by the WSJ related to Singapore’s investigation of alleged 1MDB-linked money laundering, authorities describe Densmore as controlled by Yousef and Shaher.

Those documents also describe another US$16 million of separate payments to Densmore in the form of loans from a company connected to the alleged fraud.

Silver Coast Construction and Densmore were co-founded by Yousef and Shaher, according to people familiar with the matter.

Representatives of the Silver Coast declined to comment while Densmore was shut down in January last year.

Yousef's emails, obtained by a group calling itself Global Leaks, show several interactions between Yousef, Shaher and Low.

In one leaked email to Yousef, Shaher described a December 2013 meeting with Low, in which the Malaysian said the two would be paid an undisclosed amount of cash before the end of the year if a deal for the Helmsley building in New York City closed that day.

In 2013, Low took a 55% stake in the 46-story building, also known as the Park Lane Hotel, and sold part of his stake to Abu Dhabi sovereign-wealth fund Mubadala Development.

On May 5, 2015, a Dubai-based financial executive working at a company controlled by Yousef and Shaher told Yousef in an email that Low had instructed the men to close their accounts at BSI Bank, a private Swiss bank that investigators in the US, Switzerland and Singapore say played an instrumental role in the alleged 1MDB fraud. Densmore held an account in BSI.

“He has moved the major assets and accounts away from BSI, with some remaining which will be closed/transferred soon,” the executive said of Low.

The financial executive also wrote that Low discussed buying a bank in Barbados for him to stow money, with a Dubai investment company controlled by Otaiba and Awartani as the official buyer.

Low “felt compelled to buy a bank as a parking spot for his funds, as well as friends & family,” the executive wrote.

UAE declines to comment

A spokeswoman for the UAE embassy in Washington declined to address the evidence of financial transfers, but dismissed the leaked emails as part of a campaign against the UAE.

“The Embassy notes the existence of numerous orchestrated dossiers that have been prepared in recent weeks targeting the Ambassador and which are purported to contain hacked emails,” the spokeswoman said.

“We also note the context of the role of the UAE in the current suspension of diplomatic and economic relations with the State of Qatar. As a result we will not talk to or respond to any of these dossiers.”

The UAE and other Arab countries have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, alleging it has financed extremists.

A senior official in Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital, defended Otaiba’s private business interests. He declined to address the transactions allegedly connected to 1MDB.

“As is typical among many foreign diplomats, the ambassador has business interests outside of his official duties,“ he said. ”His business interests began long before his diplomatic career.”

Shaher, the ambassador’s business partner, did not respond to WSJ's requests for comment.

The transfers connected to Yousef are the latest chapter in the 1MDB saga, which grew from a Malaysian fund with debt problems in early 2015 into what investigators have described as one of the biggest frauds in history.

The US Justice Department has filed civil lawsuits seeking the forfeiture of approximately US$1.7 billion of assets alleged to have been purchased with money misappropriated from 1MDB by a group of conspirators with Low at the center.

Those assets include Low’s stake in New York’s Park Lane Hotel, rights to some profits from the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” and other films, jewellery and a US$250 million yacht.

1MDB has denied any wrongdoing and said it has found no evidence any of its money was misappropriated. The fund has pledged to cooperate with any lawful investigation. Malaysia has closed all but one of its domestic investigations into 1MDB, with no wrongdoing found.

Low has not been accused of a crime and has denied wrongdoing. – July 1, 2017.

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