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1MDB used as a Ponzi scheme: Swiss prosecutor

A clutch of conspirators utilised fund to pay bribes and enrich themselves, adds Michael Lauber; Swiss authorities probe six people while two Swiss banks remain under suspicion


MALAYSIA'S 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) economic development fund was used as a Ponzi scheme by a clutch of conspirators to pay bribes and enrich themselves, Switzerland's top prosecutor said days after former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was charged with corruption for his role in the affair.

Swiss authorities are now investigating six people for their alleged involvement in the multi-billion dollar 1MDB scandal and two Swiss banks - Falcon Private Bank and BSI SA - remain under suspicion, Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber told reporters on Tuesday in Putrajaya following a meeting with his Malaysian counterpart Tommy Thomas.

But the Swiss Attorney-General's office said Najib is not one of the six being investigated.

Mr Lauber's office said he and Mr Thomas "discussed the coordination of the investigation into the 1MDB case" and that its probe was focusing on the use of financing obtained by 1MDB and a former unit called SRC International Sdn.

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"All or part of the financing obtained is alleged to have been used for other purposes, most particularly for the personal enrichment of the persons involved," the statement said.

Switzerland has been investigating how billions of dollars earmarked for economic development through 1MDB was diverted and made its way into Swiss banks. Mr Lauber, working with Singaporean and US authorities, had been publicly critical in the past of Malaysian officials for their lack of cooperation. After Najib lost his bid for re-election in mid-May to rival and former premier Mahathir Mohamad, the new government said it would reopen a graft probe.

"We think it was a pretext, it was kind of a Ponzi scheme," Mr Lauber said in an interview after the briefing. "It was used for bribery of foreign officials, it was used for paying interest, it was used for motivating new officials to run against the legal requirements or it was just simply to reward them." Mr Lauber did not identify any of the people he was referring to in his comments.

Swiss prosecutors earlier in May revealed they'd opened criminal proceedings into two former officials of PetroSaudi. Under the pretence of investing about US$1 billion in a joint venture between 1MDB and PetroSaudi, 1MDB officials and others instead transferred about US$700 million to an account not associated with PetroSaudi, the US Justice Department alleged in a 2016 seizure order.

Mr Lauber said about US$7 billion of funds from 1MDB and its former unit SRC flowed through the global financial system from 2009 to 2015 and he's still assessing how much of that was misappropriated.

Lawyers for PetroSaudi have denied any wrongdoing. Najib has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him and was released on a US$247,000 bail.

Spokespeople for EFG and Falcon Bank declined to comment.

Word of both banks' involvement is not new and they have already come in for punishment. Zurich-based Falcon and and BSI, since bought by larger rival EFG International AG, were ordered in 2016 to shut down their Singapore banking units as punishment for facilitating illicit payments. BSI was fined 95 million Swiss francs (S$130 million) last year for ignoring "clear warning signals". Falcon, owned by Abu Dhabi investors, is still the subject of a criminal investigation by Swiss federal prosecutors. BLOOMBERG, AFP

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