November 16, 2015
Some of the money shoveled into US consultancy may have ended up in US political campaigns
Records compiled by the Sarawak Report, the UK-based news site run by Clare Rewcastle Brown, indicate that the state-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd. investment fund may have violated US Federal Election Law by channeling money to a well-connected US lobbying firm, which subsequently poured money into the 2014 electoral campaigns of at least seven Democrats.
The vehicle was DuSable Capital Management, incorporated in Delaware, which features some of the US’s weakest corporate registration laws, on May 9, 2013. DuSable was the brainchild of Frank White Jr., the National vice-chairman of President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and co-chair for the president’s 2013 Inauguration Committee, and Shomik Dutta, a former hedge fund executive and fellow political campaigner. In effect, White was formerly the president’s chief fundraiser after having sold his own IT support company to go into political campaigning.
DuSable registered as a foreign agent for the government of Malaysia five months later, on Sept. 9 with its sole registered client 1MDB and the government of Malaysia.
In its registration as a foreign agent, DuSable declared multiple roles in both consulting for the 1MDB solar project, raising investment for a related development partnership and lobbying to obtain US government “non-financial support” for these ventures.
However, there was no discernible need for 1MDB to seek approval or support from the US for the project. It would also appear that the US$506,000 paid to DuSable by 1MDB was the sole source of DuSable’s funds.
On Sept. 29, 10 days later, DuSable made contributions of US$5,200 to the Senate campaigns of Mark Begich and Michelle Nunn. On July 1, 2014, DuSable contributed US$25,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of Terry McAuliffe. Other US$500 contributions went to the Senate campaigns of Don Beyer, Kevin Strouse and Rho Khanna. Dick Durbin, the Democratic Senate Whip, received another US$5,200.
Surreptitious contributions to US political candidates from overseas is no laughing matter. In 2001, Indonesia’s James Tjahaha Riady, the head of the Lippo Group, was fined a record US$8.6 million on a felony charge of conspiring to defraud the United States by unlawfully reimbursing campaign donors with foreign corporate funds in violation of federal election law. In addition, LippoBank California, a California state-chartered bank affiliated with Lippo Group, pleaded guilty to 86 misdemeanor counts charging its agents, Riady and John Huang, with making illegal foreign campaign contributions from 1988 through 1994.
On Oct. 1, 2014, Frank White and Pras Michel, a two-time Grammy-winning American rapper, best known as one of the founding members of the critically acclaimed hip hop group the Fugees, incorporated the Yurus Private Equity Fund as a subsidiary of DuSable, announcing a US$505 million commitment from two anonymous investors. At least one of them is believed to be Aabar Investments, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, an investment fund for the United Arab Emirates.
On April 11, 2014, Yurus formed a “master joint venture agreement with 1MDB to launch a subsidiary solar project in the northern state of Kedah.
Just six months later, on Oct. 2, a month after Brown published an article connecting White to the President, the joint venture was hurriedly terminated with a payment to Yurus of US$69 million for a 49 percent share. DuSable deregistered as a foreign agent for the Malaysian government on the same day.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has since denied any involvement with DuSable in a joint venture despite the public documents filed with the US Justice Department.
The question is what DuSable got for its money, especially after the US$69 million payment to DuSable to wind up Yurus. The solar project in Kedah remains unrealized.
There is speculation, however, that given Frank White’s relationship with President Obama, White’s real task was to persuade Obama to take Najib golfing with him in December last year at the Clipper Golf Course on the US Marine base in Hawaii.
“For some reason, which we don’t know, 1MDB wanted the Yurus Fund, managed by Frank White, to make a US$70 million profit in Malaysia,” an anonymous source told Sarawak Report.
Malaysians might think there could be better uses for a fund using borrowed public money in the name of development, which ended up some US$12 billion in the red.
The records available show that Yurus registered the entire US$69 million it received from 1MDB as additional profit, implying it had not invested any of its original US$505 million in the venture.
“Fund managers say this appears to confirm that the entire joint venture investment was yet again a merely paper exercise by 1MDB, which Sarawak Report has already exposed for earlier channeling US$1.83 billion into a non-existent venture with the company PetroSaudi,” Rewcastle Brown wrote. “Most of that ‘investment’ ended up in the bank accounts of 1MDB advisor Jho Low.”
Many of these irregularities have also been linked to 1MDB, whose unpaid debts Aabar is currently committed to covering until June of 2016.