KUALA LUMPUR - The alleged 1MDB mastermind and other suspects in the scandal are believed to be hiding out in China, Malaysia's police chief said Wednesday, urging authorities there to help hunt down the fugitives.
Billions of dollars were stolen from sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad and bankrolled a global spending spree, with looted cash used to buy everything from pricey art to real estate.
Former Malaysian leader Najib Razak lost power in 2018 over his involvement in the fraud and was last week convicted in a 1MDB-linked trial, but several other suspects remain at large.
The most prominent is Low Taek Jho, a bespectacled, chubby financier known for partying with Hollywood A-listers and accused of being the scandal's mastermind.
Malaysian police said last week Low was believed to be hiding in the semi-autonomous Chinese city of Macau -- but Beijing swiftly shot down the suggestion, insisting it does not harbor foreign criminals.
However, Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador said a woman was arrested this year who had been sending documents to Low in the gambling boomtown, and authorities had concluded he was there.
He also said Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil, ex-CEO of a 1MDB unit, was believed to be in Hong Kong while another former official from the fund, Jasmine Loo, was thought to be in the Chinese city of Shenzhen.
"Jho Low is almost freely conducting his business" in Macau, he told AFP in an interview, and appealed for help from authorities. "We want the local authorities, the police, in Macau to act responsibly."
"Don't the authorities in Macau have the police instinct to assist us?" he added.
Low's whereabouts have long been the subject of speculation, and he has been rumored to be in other locations including the United Arab Emirates. He has been charged in Malaysia and the United States over 1MDB, and denies wrongdoing.
Abdul Hamid also said ties with police in the southern Chinese territory of Hong Kong had deteriorated in recent years, hindering law enforcement efforts there.
Officials in Hong Kong and Macau did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The police chief said it was hard to know when he would succeed in hunting down Low, commonly known as Jho Low, and other fugitives.
"As long as there is a lack of cooperation from authorities in Hong Kong or Macau... it is impossible for me to give any dates," he said.
But he added: "We will never rest. We will bring them to justice."