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Judge to rule in favour of replacing trustees in Jho Low family case

Friday 20th January 2017

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The judge in the High Court hearing involving family members of Malaysian businessman Jho Low has indicated he will rule in favour of the plaintiffs, allowing the family members to have trustees replaced so they can fight attempts by the US Department of Justice to confiscate US$265 million in assets.

The relatives - Low Hock Peng, Goh Gaik Ewe, Low May Lin and Low Taek Szen - are beneficiaries of New Zealand trusts which own assets which the US Department of Justice alleges to be proceeds of a multi-billion dollar money laundering scheme, including a Bombardier jet, the Viceroy L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverley Hills and property in New York and Los Angeles. 

The US government alleges the trusts’ assets can be traced to an international conspiracy to launder money from Malaysian wealth fund 1MDB. The DOJ is trying to recover more than US$1billion, of which some US$265 million of assets are involved in today's dispute.

The trustees want the court to make an ancillary order to reimburse them for costs they have incurred to preserve and enhance the trust’s assets, which they say are considerable, along with future costs from transferring the assets to the new trustees and any future legal costs.

In the High Court in Auckland today, Noel Ingram, the QC for the plaintiffs, said this morning's 1 hour-and-45 minute delay had been due to the parties attempting to sort out the ancillary orders which the defendants had requested. Substantial progress had been made and an agreement reached in principle, Ingram said, with finer details in the process of being resolved by lunchtime or early afternoon.

Justice Kit Toogood said he understood from the submissions made by Ingram and by the trusts' QC, David Bigio, that there was no real opposition to making orders for substituting the trustees and he would be satisfied to order that substitution at this stage and has begun drafting a judgment. 

"Given the true nature of this proceeding, the background and extensive news media interest," Justice Toogood said it would be necessary for him to give a judgment which contains background "and perhaps emphasises what this proceeding does not involve".

"The central issue here is whether or not the beneficiaries are entitled to seek replacement of the trustees so they can resist the US proceedings, without this court needing to express any view about the merits" of the US allegations, Justice Toogood said. "The judgment would simply reflect the general nature of the allegations."

"When I do give my judgment, it will take a little while - I want to do justice to the position of the parties, that might be half an hour for me to read. The transcript will be available very shortly thereafter. I think it's best to do that because there are some complexity to these things."

The court will reconvene at 2.15pm, the judge said, which could be extended or shortened if needed. 

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