UAE envoy to US linked to Malaysia 1MBD scandal, say reports

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Leaked emails show companies connected to envoy received $66mn from accounts linked to Malaysia's 1MDB fund

Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE ambassador to the US, in Idaho, US on 6 July 2016 (AFP)
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Saturday 1 July 2017 13:16 UTC
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Companies connected to the UAE envoy to the US received $66mn from offshore accounts that contained money allegedly embezzled from Malaysia's 1MDB investment fund, according to reports.

Leaked emails of ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba included "descriptions of meetings between Shaher Awartani, an Abu Dhabi-based business partner of Otaiba," reported the The Wall Street Journal.

The emails also involved "Jho Low, the Malaysian financier the [US] justice department says was the central conspirator in the alleged $4.5 billion 1MDB fraud," according to documents uncovered by the WSJ.

In 2015, allegations emerged that billions of dollars were stolen from Malaysia's state-owned 1MDB. The US justice department said that the billions had been stolen by people close to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Najib has denied involvement and 1MBD officials have said it has found no evidence of misappropriation.

According to the WSJ, in addition to the meetings between Awartani and Low, "a Singapore criminal case against a Swiss banker disclosed $50 million of payments made to the companies connected to Otaiba, including Densmore Investments Ltd. in the British Virgin Islands and Silver Coast Construction & Boring in the UAE". 

"In separate documents reviewed by the Journal related to Singapore's investigation of alleged 1MDB-linked money laundering, authorities describe Densmore as controlled by Otaiba and Awartani," added WSJ.

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

Hackers from a group called Global Leaks leaked emails from Otiaba's inbox earlier this month. According to the WSJ, a number of those emails show communications between Otaiba, Awartani and Low.

"On May 5, 2015, a Dubai-based financial executive working at a company controlled by Otaiba and Awartani told Otaiba 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 at BSI," the WSJ said.

Otaiba declined to comment on the findings, reported WSJ.

A spokeswoman for the UAE embassy told WSJ that the embassy "noted the existence of numerous orchestrated dossiers that have been prepared … targeting the ambassador and which are purported to contain hacked emails".

The news comes after Saudi Arabia, the UAE (a seven-member federation that includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi), Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed sanctions on the country on 5 June accusing it of supporting "terrorism," an allegation Qatar has denied.

Last week, the Saudi-led bloc gave Qatar 10 days to comply with 13 demands to end the siege, including that Qatar shut down Al-Jazeera, close a Turkish military base and scale down ties with Iran.