TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Three Caucasian men quietly went about their business on the deck of the Equanimity yacht. One of them, a man wearing a bucket hat and white shirt and shorts, was fixing some steps. The sound of a drill could be heard amidst the sound of the waves hitting the hull in Tanjung Benoa.
He was unconcerned with the presence of Tempo 10 meters away. Several times he peered out from behind his sunglasses, then continued his work. The second man only moved about the vessel. He went up to the second deck, then came back down a short time later. He went up and down the steps several times.
Another man was busy with a small boat tethered to the Equanimity. After straightening the ropes on that small boat, he returned to the ship and was not seen again. Similar to the other two, he ignored Tempo, who repeatedly circled around the Equanimity on a motorboat.
On Friday last week, only those three men were seen on deck. The ship can carry a crew of 34, including its captain, Rolf Sieboldt-Berry. In the waters around the anchored Equanimity, the only thing in sight were some tourists passing by on jet skis, followed by some parasailers.
After being declared to have been confiscated by the National Police on February 28, Equanimity has not traveled much. The ship dropped anchor about five kilometers off the east coast of Kelan village, Badung, Bali. However, on Tuesday last week, this yacht travelled further out to dump some waste. Other than that, it remained at those coordinates.
With a length of 91.5 meters and consisting of four decks, the Equanimity stands out even from a distance. Its hull is the colour of the ocean, in contrast with its high decks in white. Even though it sails under the flag of the Cayman Islands, that day it was flying an Indonesian flag.
On Friday last week, the police were done questioning the ship’s crew. According to Sr. Comsr. Daniel Silitonga, Vice Director of Special Economic Crime at the National Police Criminal Investigation Unit, the questioning has been completed, and the case will soon be turned over to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). "We are preparing the procedure for turning over the vessel," said Daniel, on Thursday last week.
Equanimity is an important piece of evidence regarding money laundering suspected of being committed by Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho alias Jho Low. This man from Penang is said to be a close friend of Riza Aziz, stepson of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Low is a link in the chain who could implicate Najib in a scandal of the misuse of funds from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), an investment agency owned by the Malaysian government.
In the legal complaint submitted by the US Department of Justice to a California court, US$250 million-about Rp3.5 trillion at the current exchange rate-used to purchase this ship manufactured by Oceanco in the Netherlands in 2014 came from 1MDB funds suspected of being siphoned away.
American law gives the government the authority to investigate flows of illicit funds into the United States. After investigating the flow of 1MDB funds, the US Department of Justice filed a complaint to the court on June 15, 2017.
According to the Department of Justice, about US$4.5 billion, or about Rp62 trillion, of 1MDB funds are suspected of being siphoned off by high-ranking officials of that agency and their associates from 2009 to 2015. Of that amount, the Department of Justice is after various assets worth about US$1.7 billion, or about Rp23 trillion, including the Equanimity yacht.
A day later, on June 16, an order to seize the Equanimity was issued by a California court. Since then, the ship has been officially sought after by the FBI.
According to Brig. Gen. Agung Setya Imam Effendi, a high-ranking official of Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency (BIN) who was previously Director of Special Crimes at the Criminal Investigation Unit, the FBI’s request to the Indonesian National Police to seize the Equanimity was made last February 21. The FBI, said Agung, did not provide the ship’s exact coordinates. Ship guests only indicated that the ship had gone to Indonesia.
"I asked, ‘Where is it exactly? You have sophisticated equipment’," said Agung, recalling what he asked when meeting an FBI agent.
Speaking to Agung, the FBI said that the last time they knew the ship’s exact location was when it was in Canadian waters. Then they lost the trail. In this meeting, the FBI also showed the court seizure order and evidence that the ship was purchased from the proceeds of money laundering.
Read the full article in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine