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Pricey NYC Condos Seized In Connection With Money Laundering Investigation

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The feds are cracking down on assets acquired with funds laundered through a Malaysian investment company

The Justice Department has moved to seize four multimillion dollar Manhattan condos and a stake in the Park Lane Hotel that are connected with an international money laundering scheme of epic proportions. On Wednesday, the Justice Department issued a 136-page lawsuit that details the intricacies of the scheme, like something out of a thriller movie, that allowed a cast of global characters to purchase penthouses in Walker Tower and the Time Warner Center, a private jet, and art by the likes of Van Gogh and Monet.

The lawsuit names, among others, defendants Jho Low, a Malaysian businessman with ties to the Prime Minister’s family; Riza Aziz, a film producer and stepson of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak; and Emirati businessman Khadem al-Qubaisi. All three have been connected to major real estate acquisitions in New York City over the past several years with funds tied to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a "strategic investment and development company wholly-owned by the government of Malaysia," per the lawsuit.

To hedge—the lawsuit is dense—the suit alleges that roughly $3.5 billion was redirected from the strategic investment company meant to benefit the people of Malaysia to co-conspirators and their friends and family. The laundered funds were then ultimately used for the acquisition of private assets. Included in those assets is a Time Warner penthouse and storage unit purchased for $30.55 million in 2011, supposedly purchased for Jho Low’s father, who the lawsuit notes never viewed the apartment, but ultimately intended for the junior Low himself.

The 2014 sale of a $50.9 million Walker Tower penthouse has also been named in connection to the money laundering scheme. The buyer of the penthouse, Khadem al-Qubaisi, was the former managing director of the International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), the other of the two parent funds fingered in the money laundering operation. Hakkasan nightlife group CEO Neil Moffit managed the property for al-Qubaisi, and was initially believed to be the buyer of the record-setting penthouse.

The lawsuit seeks to seize the $33.5 million penthouse atop the Upper West Side’s Park Laurel condominium that was purchased by Riza Aziz with—that’s right—laundered funds. Aziz picked up the apartment in 2012 from Jho Low, who initially purchased the penthouse for $23.98 million in 2010. The lawsuit also seeks to seize the rights, royalties, and distribution proceeds of motion picture The Wolf of Wall Street, allegedly produced using diverted funds from 1MDB by Red Granite Pictures, the production firm co-founded by Aziz.

The least of the real estate acquisitions named for seizure in the lawsuit is a $13.8 million apartment at 118 Greene Street purchased by Low in February 2014.

The lawsuit also seeks to seize an interest in the Park Lane Hotel purchased by Jho Low through a limited liability partnership with site owner Steven Witkoff. The suit alleges that Low used funds laundered through 1MDB to enter into the partnership. The Park Lane Partnership acquired the iconic Central Park South hotel for $654 million in late 2013.

Low asserted to a high-ranking Witkoff Group employee, through emails that appear in the lawsuit, that the funds used towards the hotel all came from the "Low Family Capital built from our Grandparents, down to the third generation now." In the fallout of the lawsuit, Witkoff maintains he is in full cooperation with the investigation.

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