APRIL 30, 2018: The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a formal request for mutual legal assistance (MLA) to Indonesia to seize Equanimity. Indonesian law requires foreign governments file an MLA before any action can be taken. News reports state that the Justice Department filed the request in a California court on April 27. They add that the request was dated April 19, two days after the seizure of Equanimity was declared illegal.
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An Indonesian court says the country’s police acted improperly in seizing Equanimity on behalf of the FBI in February. As a result, the judge adds, Equanimity should go back to her owner.
It’s the latest development in a dramatic case where the owner allegedly used stolen funds to acquire the megayacht. It also stands in stark contrast to a U.S. court ruling earlier this month clearing Equanimity for transfer to U.S. shores.
In February, Indonesian police seized the 300-foot (91-meter) Equanimity off Bali. It did so at the request of the FBI. The Indonesian government and the FBI both allege that her owner, Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, stole millions from 1MDB, a government-run development fund. The allegations against the financier, a.k.a. Jho Low, date back to 2015. Low has long denied the claims. In June 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil case seeking to recover the yacht. Soon afterwards, a U.S. District Court judge in California issued an arrest warrant for Equanimity.
Following the seizure, in late March, Low filed lawsuits in Indonesia and the United States, claiming the yacht’s arrest was illegal. That same week, however, the Department of Justice filed a request in a California court to become the yacht’s custodian. A U.S. judge ruled in its favor in early March, clearing Equanimity for transfer to the USA.
Now, however, Equanimity may not be taking that journey. According to the Associated Press, a South Jakarta District Court judge says police failed to inform the FBI of proper procedures. He cited a 2006 law, which spells out how foreign countries should formally request cooperation. Under it, the police should have told the FBI to contact Indonesia’s Ministry of Law first. “Police should only conduct joint operations after mutual legal assistance is agreed by the Ministry of Law and Human Rights,” the Associated Press quotes the judge as explaining. The judge then ordered Equanimity to return to Low.
Equanimity’s representatives agreed with the ruling. “There are procedures to be followed under the mutual legal-assistance law,” a lawyer tells the Associated Press. “We hope our law enforcers will pay attention to these procedures.” As for Indonesian police, they are reportedly reviewing next possible steps with the FBI. Furthermore, the investigation into Jho Low and the alleged stolen funds continues.