The superyacht Equanimity has returned to Malaysian waters for the first time since the Pakatan Harapan-led government took power.
According to the vessel tracking website Vessel Finder, the Equanimity crossed the maritime border between Indonesia and Malaysia from Batam sometime between 5.21pm and 5.29pm.
It was escorted from Batam by the Malaysian marine police vessel KPD Setia, and both vessels were anchored about two nautical miles off the coast of Pengerang, Johor, as of about 6.00pm.
It remained there for about an hour before making the journey westward off the southern coast of Singapore, with Setia sailing behind it.
Earlier today, The Star reported that Equanimity is slated to arrive in Port Klang tomorrow.
At the time, a spokesperson at the Prime Minister’s Office told reporters that the vessel was being handed over from Indonesian to Malaysian authorities in Batam.
The Star quoted an unnamed source that senior Malaysian marine police officers had been in Batam to receive the vessel, and at least four marine police personnel will accompany the vessel and its crew to Malaysia.
Tycoon Low Taek Jho had allegedly bought the RM1 billion million vessel through intermediaries using funds misappropriated from 1MDB, according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ)
Prior to today, Malaysiakini had reported that the vessel was last seen in Malaysian waters on Nov 16 and 17 while it was transiting through the Straits of Malacca while on the way from Phuket to Indonesia.
Before that, it was also seen in the Straits of Malacca on Oct 13, 2016, travelling northwest after departing from Hong Kong about a week earlier, according to the news portal.
This was until Indonesians boarded and seized the vessel off the coast of Bali on Feb 28 this year, sparking a legal battle between Low’s lawyers and Indonesian and US authorities over who should have custody over the vessel.
It is unclear the handover to Malaysia would affect the legal proceedings, particularly those that are still pending in the US.
Malaysiakini had contacted the DOJ over the weekend regarding the court proceedings in the US, but has yet to receive a response.
The DOJ had sued for the forfeiture of the vessel, as part of a series of 30 civil forfeiture suits to seize properties allegedly linked to the misappropriation of 1MDB that had been channelled through the US financial system.
To date, the case itself is still pending, while the US Central California District Court had granted the US government protective custody over the vessel to bring it back to US waters for sale pending the final disposal of the case.
The order is still in effect, although Low’s lawyers had appealed the protective custody order to the US Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit.
In the meantime, Indonesian authorities had boarded the vessel again on July 9 to serve the California court’s arrest warrant, after its previous seizure on Feb 28 was nullified by a Jakarta court on technical grounds.
In light of recent developments, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad thanked Indonesian President Joko Widodo for his assistance in bringing the Equanimity to Malaysia, and said those who wish to claim ownership of it could come forward and furnish proof.
"If they can prove that the money used to purchase the yacht is theirs, they have a right to have the yacht returned to them," he said.
In an immediate response, Low’s lawyer James F Haggerty reiterated that the handover to Malaysian authorities proved that Mahathir has no interest in the rule of law, and ignores court rulings in the US and Indonesia.
“Mahathir has chosen to bring the asset illegally into a rigged Malaysian system manipulated by a man who only cares about his absolute political rule. It is ultimately justice that suffers.
“Since his election, Mahathir has tried reinventing his public image following the appalling abuses of the rule of law he previously presided over, including the Anwar case and the 1988 judicial crisis.
“The reality is that he has simply continued on as he did during his previous regime and has shown that his only objectives are political: from freezing bank accounts of rival political parties, to public trial-by-media, where guilt is proclaimed before any evidence is presented,” he said in a statement today.
He said the yacht’s registered owner Equanimity Cayman Limited had already filed a claim on the vessel, and have filed further proceedings today in response to the latest development.
However, he did not mention in which jurisdiction the new proceedings have been filed.