Malaysia has insisted that the US Department of Justice's (DoJ) court case to recover funds illegally siphoned off 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) is a civil and private matter that does not need involve the country's government, according to reports released on Monday (1 August).

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Azalina Othman Said, highlighted that the lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice to recover the stolen assets did not require the Malaysian government to step in.

The DoJ announced on 20 July that it had filed a civil lawsuit seeking to seize more than £1bn in assets that it claimed were embezzled from the state fund. Although Prime Minister Najib Razak was not named in the suit, his stepson Riza Aziz and Low Taek Jho - or better known as Jho Low - were named.

The DoJ is bringing the action forward under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, a federal initiative to recover assets stolen by foreign officials and laundered in the US. Those named in the civil suit have not been charged with any crimes, although law enforcement officials confirmed there is an ongoing criminal investigation, according to a report by the LA Times.

riza aziz
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's stepson Riza Aziz Wikipedia

"I looked into it, I went online and I don't see any government of Malaysia there, I don't see as a party, so I don't think so that it is relevant for the government to be involved. I think this is a civil matter and this is a private matter between the government of United States and the parties concerned," the minister said, the Malay Mail Online reports.

She said that the state-owned agencies involved in the matter could have their own lawyers to defend themselves. "I think the state agency would have their purview for their own lawyers."

However, she was quite emphatic that the civil suit brought by the US Department of Justice did not involve the Malaysian government directly. "I think the government is only directly related if the government is the defendant, but the government is not the defendant," Azalina said.

The Minister who brought her previous profession as a lawyer to the attention of the media said the lawsuit was merely between the US government and the four parties named in the civil suit.

When asked whether the government would send legal representatives to represent the two Malaysians - Low Taek Joh and Riza Aziz - named in the law suit, she said: "My immediate response is I don't know because I believe this matter, you have to ask the Attorney-General. I think it's under the purview of the AG."

Najib Razak
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak coming under further pressure as the net closers around state fund 1MDB. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

AG mulls sending representatives to hold watching brief over proceedings

In a reverse stance, the Attorney General, Mohamed Apandi Ali, told reporters that he is considering sending representatives to hold watching briefs at the civil suit hearing as 1MDB is a Malaysian company which the government has interest in.

"I am looking into the idea, maybe I or my officers will go there during the hearing to at least register our interest because we heard you [the US] want to give money to us, we want to hear," he told reporters. The AG added that a US law firm may also be appointed, The Star reported.

By holding a watching brief, the Malaysian representatives would attend the hearing, and perhaps, with the permission of the court, ask a few questions for clarification, Mohamed Apandi said.