What do the prime minister of Malaysia, a Hollywood movie, and an international corruption probe have to do with what we do here at Hillard Heintze? Bear with me and I’ll explain.
U.S. Department of Justice Investigation
In case you missed it, last month the U.S. Department of Justice moved to seize about $1 billion in assets as part of an international investigation centered on the alleged misuse of funds from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund. DOJ investigators allege that $3.5 billion was misappropriated from the fund between 2009 and 2013 via a network of shell corporations and used to purchase luxury properties in Beverly Hills and New York City, fine art, and other rich-guy goodies. DOJ investigators are looking at the involvement of various individuals with ties to the fund, including Malaysian president Najib Razak, who set up the fund in 2009.
The asset seizure is among the largest in U.S. history. Among the assets U.S. officials are trying to seize are rights to the 2013 Academy Award-nominated film Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a character who, himself, engages in financial corruption. A company called Red Granite Pictures produced the film, and investigators say it was bankrolled using diverted Malaysian sovereign wealth fund money. (Earlier this month Red Granite Pictures struck a deal with the Department of Justice to keep future earnings from the film separate until the asset seizure case is resolved.)
Whether you are law enforcement with subpoena power or a private investigator, one of the most challenging aspects of an asset search case – especially one on this scale – is figuring out where the money went. In this case, law enforcement and prosecutors likely are poring over many thousands of pages of subpoenaed documents and public records (corporate filings, real estate documents, tax returns, bank and other financial records, to name a few) related to the fund and the individuals who oversee it, including Malaysian government leadership. While the U.S. and Malaysia are allies who work together to combat terrorism, it’s unclear whether DOJ will have full access to Malaysian government records related to the fund. For what it’s worth, Malaysia has no national freedom of information law and the group Reporters Without Borders ranks it 146th in the world in terms of press freedom.
How Hillard Heintze Can Help Your Asset Search Investigation
Asset searches are something we specialize in at Hillard Heintze. Whether it’s looking into a potential new business partner or a former corrupt one, or looking into a party to a lawsuit who may be hiding assets to avoid paying a judgment, we have plenty of experience in asset searches. While we don’t typically have subpoena power, we do sometimes get access to subpoenaed documents or other non-public information through attorneys we work with as part of litigation proceedings. Additionally, we excel at scouring the public records landscape to determine what assets a subject owns in his or her own name and connecting the dots — say, if someone is using a company or relative’s name or an alias to try to hide assets. We can also search social media for evidence that someone is hiding assets and to get a more fulsome picture of someone’s financial status – or lack thereof. Surveillance could be another fruitful step. For example, our asset search investigators might find that a subject of an investigation who claims to have very little in assets is driving an expensive car, building a new in-ground pool or taking a pricey vacation, which may lead to new asset discoveries.
An asset search often requires patience and fortitude, and sometimes even a lucky break here and there. But these matters also are among the more interesting and challenging aspects of our investigations that require a very distinct methodology and approach. And while we have yet to be called in to help chase down the Wolf of Wall Street, we’re always ready to track our next investigative target.