Photo: Dan Gaba/The Wall Street Journal
By Simon Clark, Georgi Kantchev and Bradley Hope
The Wall Street Journal
May 19, 2016 1:03 a.m. ET
The stepson of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak bought a £23.25 million ($33.6 million) house in central London in 2012 with money originating from the troubled Malaysian state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., according to people familiar with the situation.
The redbrick four-story house, built around 1900, is part of a row set back from the road and protected by security gates, a short walk from Malaysia’s diplomatic mission in London’s exclusive Belgravia neighborhood. The registered owner of the house is Qentas Holdings Ltd., a company based in the British Virgin Islands. Mr. Najib’s stepson is the beneficial owner, the people said.
Investigators believe that money from the Malaysian fund known as 1MDB was used to buy the house in July 2012. The Wall Street Journal has previously reported that Riza Aziz, a film producer and stepson of the Malaysian leader, used money that originated from 1MDB to buy $50 million worth of properties in New York and Los Angeles and to finance the 2013 movie “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
A spokesman said last week that Mr. Aziz’s film company, Red Granite Pictures, “is responding to all inquiries and cooperating fully.”
“There has never been anything inappropriate about any of Red Granite Pictures or Riza Aziz’s business activities,” the spokesman said. “What they have done and will continue to do is develop and produce successful and acclaimed movies that have generated more than $825 million in world-wide box-office revenues.”
Money used to buy the properties in London and the U.S. was part of at least $238 million that was transferred to an offshore company owned by Mr. Aziz called Red Granite Capital from another offshore company set up to resemble an Abu Dhabi company 1MDB did business with, investigators believe, according to people familiar with the matter.
The offshore company, Aabar Investments PJS Ltd., received more than $3.5 billion from 1MDB over several years. It has a similar name to Aabar Investments PJS in Abu Dhabi, which is owned by one of the Emirate’s sovereign-wealth funds called International Petroleum Investment Co. IPIC has said in a filing to the London Stock Exchange that the Aabar in the British Virgin Islands that transferred money to Red Granite Capital isn’t part of its corporate structure.
A $133 million tranche of the money was received by Red Granite Capital in June 2012, according to documents reviewed by the Journal. The London property was acquired a month later without a mortgage, according to the U.K. Land Registry.
Mr. Aziz has denied wrongdoing, as has Mr. Najib.
Mr. Najib attended a conference in the U.K. capital on May 16 to promote investment in his country. He told business leaders and politicians gathered at Marlborough House, the headquarters of the Commonwealth group of nations, that Malaysia is an “ideal partner.” He urged the audience to look at the “real story in Malaysia” instead of believing certain media stories without specifying which stories he was referring to.
More than $1 billion originating from 1MDB landed in Mr. Najib’s private bank accounts, the Journal has reported, citing people familiar with probes in two countries. Some of the money was used to pay for political spending in Malaysia, as well as clothing and jewels, according to Malaysian investigation documents that include bank-transfer information.
Mr. Najib has acknowledged he received $681 million as a legitimate donation from Saudi Arabia and that most of it was returned. Malaysia’s attorney general agreed the money came from Saudi Arabia legally and cleared Mr. Najib of wrongdoing.
The fund was set up in 2009 by Mr. Najib to boost the economy using money borrowed from the global markets.
1MDB is today at the center of corruption probes by authorities in Malaysia and six other nations. Investigators believe as much as $6 billion of the fund’s money was siphoned away, according to a person familiar with one country’s probe. The fund has said it would cooperate with investigators, but maintained its investments were accounted for.
The Ministry of Finance of Malaysia, the owner of 1MDB, accepted the resignation of the fund’s board of directors earlier this month after a report from a parliamentary committee criticized decisions made by the firm. It also dissolved its board of advisers, which Mr. Najib chaired.
1MDB has said it would cooperate with investigations but hasn’t been contacted yet by any outside agency. It has maintained that all its investments are accounted for.
Just four days before Mr. Najib’s London speech, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron convened a major anticorruption summit at Lancaster House, a few hundred feet from the Commonwealth headquarters. Mr. Cameron condemned unspecified corrupt politicians who steal from their countries and use companies in offshore financial centers to secretly buy properties in London to launder their ill-gotten gains. He announced a new public register of all beneficial owners of property in the U.K. Plans to include property already owned and not just future transactions went further than some had expected. Foreign companies own 44,000 London properties, according to the government.
“We want to clean up our property market and show there’s no home for the corrupt in Britain,” Mr. Cameron said at the conference. “When people steal money from your country and hide it in mine we will expose them and return the money.”
In response to a question from the Journal at the anticorruption conference about Mr. Najib, Mr. Cameron said that the 1MDB controversy won’t deter the U.K. government from doing business with Malaysia. Mr. Cameron said that while he had raised “concerns” with Malaysia, he still wants to promote business ties.
“Britain is an international trading and investing nation,” Mr. Cameron said. “There is no country that is entirely free from corruption.”
Hugo Swire, a minister in the U.K. Foreign Office, attended the Malaysian investment conference. He said there wasn’t a contradiction between the British government’s support for the Malaysian investment conference and the earlier anticorruption conference.
“What we decided there and what was discussed there has universal application but I am not aware that that should impact on anything we are discussing this afternoon,” Mr. Swire said. “I am not setting myself up as a judge and a jury.”
Prime Minister Najib was introduced at the investment conference by Jonathan Marland, a member of the House of Lords and a former trade envoy for Mr. Cameron. Mr. Marland described the conference as “a huge love-in.” He thanked the Malaysian prime minister for his crucial role in securing investment from a Malaysian group of companies in 2012 to redevelop London’s Battersea power station, a multibillion-dollar project by the River Thames.
“When our country was at its knees you came and invested,” Mr. Marland told the Malaysian prime minister. He later told the Journal that he didn’t want to “interfere” in Malaysian internal affairs by commenting on 1MDB.