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US looks to seize $540m in 'stolen' assets from Malaysia fund 1MDB

A painting called 'Nature Morte au Crane de Taureau' by Spanish Pablo Picasso is shown during an Impressionist and Modern Art showcase press viewing at Christie's auction house in London, 19 March 2007. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Picasso's painting titled 'Nature Morte au Crane de Taureau' was allegedly bought with stolen money

US authorities are moving to seize a Picasso painting, a luxury apartment in Manhattan, and the movie rights to 'Dumb and Dumber To' as part of a global money laundering investigation.

The Department of Justice alleges more than $4.5bn (£3.5bn) was stolen from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB by public officials and their associates.

Their latest lawsuit is looking to recover an additional $540m in assets linked to the scandal-ridden fund.

1MDB routinely denies any misconduct.

The case continues to place pressure on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was identified as 'Official 1' in the DoJ filings.

There have been large street protests in the capital Kuala Lumpur in recent years calling for Mr Najib, who used to chair 1MDB's advisory board, to step down.

The scandal has also spawned investigations in at least five countries including Singapore, Hong Kong and Switzerland.

Mr Najib has consistently denied corruption allegations and an investigation by the country's attorney-general also cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Image copyright MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty
Image caption The investigation of 1MDB has brought pressure on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

"These cases involve billions of dollars that should have been used to help the people of Malaysia, but instead was used by a small number of individuals to fuel their astonishing greed," said Sandra Brown, an acting US attorney.

"We simply will not allow the United States to be a place where corrupt individuals can expect to hide assets and lavishly spend money that should be used for the benefit of citizens of other nations."

A press secretary for Mr Najib said in a statement that the government would co-operate with any "lawful" investigation, but stressed that the US claims remain unproven.

The secretary, Datuk Seri Tengku Sariffuddin, also said there was "unnecessary and gratuitous naming" in the case.

"Malaysia stands firm in its support of transparency and good governance," he said. "That includes ensuring that accusations have a basis in fact, rather than smears briefed by political opponents."

Where did the money go?

Overall, the DoJ has filed complaints to recover more than $1.7bn worth of funds allegedly pilfered from 2009 through 2015.

In court papers submitted on Thursday, prosecutors said some of the stolen money was used to buy a pink diamond necklace for Mr Najib's wife and a 300-foot luxury yacht called The Equanimity that comes with a helicopter launching pad and movie theatre.

Stolen funds were also used to buy the Picasso painting 'Nature Morte au Crane de Taureau', which was later given to actor Leonardo DiCaprio as a birthday gift.

Image copyright Getty Images

The money was also used to fund Hollywood films including 'The Wolf of Wall Street' and the Jim Carrey movie 'Dumb and Dumber To'.

Red Granite Pictures, which financed both of those films and was founded by Mr Najib's stepson, is currently in settlement talks.

Attorney Jim Bates, who represents the firm, said it is "fully co-operating" and remains an active production company.

Mr DiCaprio, who starred in the Wolf of Wall Street, said last year he was co-operating with the investigation and would return any gifts tied to the fund.

Those named in earlier complaints, including the family of Malaysian financier Jho Low, who authorities say was a key player in the affair, have fought the seizures.

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