US goes after more than $1B taken from Malaysian fund

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States moved Wednesday to recover more than $1 billion that federal officials say were stolen from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund and used for high-end real estate, fancy artwork and movie productions.

A civil forfeiture complaint filed in Los Angeles alleges a complex money laundering scheme engineered by top-level officials of a fund that was created by the Malaysian government with the goal of promoting economic development in the Asian nation.

Instead, officials at the fund — known informally as 1MDB — diverted more than $3.5 billion through a web of shell companies and foreign bank accounts, according to the U.S. government.

Federal officials say more than $1 billion was laundered into the U.S. for the personal benefit of 1MDB officials and their associates. The funds were used to pay for luxury real estate, gambling expenses in Las Vegas casinos, more than $200 million in artwork by artists including Van Gogh and Monet and for the production of films, including the 2013 Oscar-nominated movie “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other officials were expected to discuss the allegations at a news conference Wednesday.

The Justice Department says it is the largest forfeiture demand under an initiative that seeks to recover foreign bribery proceeds and embezzled funds.