A Malaysian court on Friday allowed the forfeiture of 48 million ringgit (US$11.6 million) in assets from the father of fugitive businessman Jho Low, signalling authorities are stepping up efforts to catch the alleged mastermind of the multibillion 1MDB financial scandal.
Local media reports said the court order was the first domestic forfeiture of assets linked to the scandal, in which some US$4.5 billion of funds were allegedly plundered from state-run fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
Malaysia's The Star newspaper reported that the court made its ruling after no third party turned up to contest the forfeiture of the assets previously frozen as part of investigations into the scandal.
Among those currently facing trial for being involved in the case is Najib Razak, the country's former prime minister and an ex-acquaintance of the younger Low.
Low Hock Peng, who holds the high ranking title of 'Tan Sri' conferred by the country's sultans, was absent from the court hearing.
His whereabouts are unknown and police have issued a warrant of arrest on him.
The Lows are a prominent family in the state of Penang, but have kept a low profile since Jho Low was implicated in the 1MDB scandal.
The government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who defeated Najib in elections last year, in March seized the Low family's bungalow in Penang's leafy Tanjung Bungah Park.
Last year it seized and later sold Low's luxury yacht called Equanimity. Low, like Najib, denies any involvement in the 1MDB scandal, but has said he will not return to face investigations in his home country because he has no faith in the justice system under Mahathir.
In an open letter, the 37-year-old slammed authorities' crackdown on his family as "yet another example of the regime's willingness to trample on due process to exact political reprisals".
After Friday's court decision, his New York-based spokesman issued a fresh statement repeating these claims.
The spokesman said the legal proceedings were "preordained and politically motivated" and described the government's efforts to seize the Low family's assets as a "shameful strategy of targeted harassment and willingness to abandon proper procedures".
Along with the bungalow, which is under the name of his mother Goh Gaik Ewe, the government also seized some 18 million ringgit worth of assets including cars, watches, handbags and cash.
Reports say Low, who has arrest warrants in Malaysia and Singapore, is living in China with the tacit support of authorities there. Beijing has repeatedly denied claims that it is harbouring him.
Investigations into the 1MDB scandal are continuing outside of Malaysia, with Singapore, the United States and Switzerland among the jurisdictions looking into the allegations of widespread plunder.
Singapore police late on Thursday said the city state was returning $37 million seized in connection with the case to Malaysia.
In June, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission's newly installed chief commissioner, Latheefa Koya, said authorities had made significant headway in regaining hundreds of millions of dollars linked to the 1MDB scandal, with help from the US Department of Justice.
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