First Western National Sentenced in 1MDB Corruption Scandal Probe

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The charges related to the Swiss bankers handling of accounts connected to controversial Malaysian playboy Jho Low (right)

A Swiss banker has been sentenced to 28 weeks for offenses connected to the accounts of Jho Low, the controversial Malaysian playboy and former party buddy of Leonardo DiCaprio.

The ongoing international investigation into the 1MDB corruption scandal, a multi-billion dollar fraud linked to the Malaysian prime minister that has engulfed The Wolf of Wall Street and led to the biggest asset seizure in the U.S. Justice Department's history, has claimed its first Western scalp. 

Jens Sturzenegger, a Swiss banker in Singapore working for the now-defunct Falcon Private Bank, was yesterday sentenced to 28 weeks in prison for his involvement in the money-laundering scandal.

The offenses were related to managing the accounts of Jho Low, the flamboyant Malaysian playboy and alleged orchestrator of the 1MDB sovereign wealth fund, who spent hundreds of millions in the U.S. on properties, artwork and parties, became a close friend of Leonardo DiCaprio and is given a "special thanks" in the credits for The Wolf of Wall Street

The former head of Falcon, Sturzenegger had pleaded guilty to six of 16 charges, mainly related to providing false evidence to police and failing to report suspicious transactions. Alongside his sentences, he was fined 128,000 Singapore dollars ($89,000).

Among the charges filed by Singaporean authorities against Sturzenegger is that he failed to report a suspicious payment of $9.19 million made from Low to a company called Helly Nahmad Gallery Inc. The Helly Nahmad Gallery is the New York art dealership of billionaire Helly Nahmad, who counts DiCaprio among his close friends and in 2013 was sentenced to 12 months in prison for operating an illegal $100 million gambling ring.

Low is alleged by the Justice Department to have bought hundreds of millions of dollars of artwork via corrupt 1MDB funds, including two by Claude Monet and one by Vincent Van Gogh, which have since been seized. 

One of the paintings — Monet's "Waterlilies With Reflections of Tall Grass" — is the subject of a ownership tussle, with Nahmad's father, prominent art dealer David Nahmad, filing an affidavit in October contesting its seizure, claiming that the deal with Low — who had already wire-transferred $2.25 million — had fallen through and the artwork was still his.

The sentencing of Sturzenegger comes less than a month after a court in Singapore handed a 30-month prison sentence to a former banker of the Swiss bank BSI for attempting to obstruct the course of justice, the third former BSI banker to be jailed as part of the ongoing probes into 1MDB.  

BSI Bank operated multiple offshore accounts for Low, 1MDB and Riza Aziz, the stepson of the Malaysian prime minister and co-founder of Red Granite, which produced The Wolf of Wall Street.

According to the Justice Department, $238 million of 1MDB money was fraudulently diverted to accounts at BSI held by Red Granite Capital limited, controlled by Aziz, who then moved $64 million to the U.S. to finance the Martin Scorsese film. Aziz is then alleged to have spent a further $94 million on real estate in Beverly Hills, New York and London, now part of the Justice Department's $1 billion asset seizure claim. 

Red Granite — which recently wrapped production on the Charlie Hunnam-starring Papillon remake — offered a statement following July's forfeiture complaint asserting that, to its knowledge, "none of the funding it received four years ago was in any way illegitimate," adding that it was cooperating with all inquiries and was confident Aziz and Red Granite would be proven to have done "nothing wrong."