The trail of breadcrumbs from a troubled Malaysian state investment fund took another twist Tuesday when Swiss authorities said some of the money ended up in the movie business.
On Monday, an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund, International Petroleum Investment Co. (IPIC), and its subsidiary Aabar Investments PJS, said that they never received $3.5 billion in payments from troubled 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
related investing news
The payments were related to a guarantee for a bond placed by Goldman Sachs.
Instead, the payments appear to have been sent to a nearly identically named firm registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Aabar Investments PJS Ltd.
Switzerland's Office of the Attorney General said on Tuesday that as part of its criminal investigation of suspected embezzlement from 1MDB, it was extending its probe to two former officials in charge of Abu Dhabi sovereign funds.
"The Swiss authorities have elements in hand allowing them to suspect that the amounts paid in connection with this guarantee were not returned to the Abu Dhabi sovereign fund that supported the commercial risk," the Swiss statement said. "To the contrary, these funds would have benefited others, particularly two public officials concerned as well as a company related to the motion picture industry. A former 1MDB body, already indicted in the Swiss proceedings has also benefited from these amounts."
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing global investigators, that much of the financing for the Leonardo DiCaprio movie "Wolf of Wall Street" originated from 1MDB. The investigators said that the movie's $100 million budget came from a company called Red Granite Pictures, which is led by Riza Aziz, the step-son of Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak, the WSJ reported.
Additionally, the United Arab Emirates' central bank has ordered a freeze on the assets of Khadem Al Qubaisi, formerly the managing director of IPIC, and former Aabar CEO Mohamed Badawy, banking sources told Reuters last week. The reason for the freeze was unclear, Reuters said.
Swiss authorities asked Singapore and Luxembourg for "mutual legal assistance" in the matter. In January, the Swiss authorities said in a statement that Malaysia had been asked for legal assistance over around $4 billion that may have been misappropriated from Malaysian state enterprises in four instances over 2009-2013.
On Monday, 1MDB said in a statement that it was surprised by IPIC's statement denying ownership of Aabar BVI. 1MDB said its own records show "documentary evidence" of Aabar BVI's ownership, but the Malaysian fund didn't provide more detail beyond adding that the agreement was negotiated with Khadem and Badawy.
The 1MDB board is headed by Najib, who has been plagued by WSJ reports that as much as $700 million passed from 1MDB to his personal bank accounts. Najib has vociferously denied any wrongdoing.
In January, Malaysia's Attorney-General cleared Najib of any corruption or criminal offences, saying that $681 million transferred into Najib's personal bank account was not from 1MDB but was, in fact, a gift from a member of Saudi Arabia's royal family.
The fund remains at the center of several international investigations into its financial dealings.
Red Granite Pictures did not immediately return an email sent outside office hours Tuesday requesting comment. The office of Malaysia's prime minister didn't respond to an email on Tuesday requesting comment.
On Wednesday afternoon, 1MDB said via email that it hadn't been contacted by any foreign legal authorities on any matters related to the fund, but it added "we remain committed to fully cooperating with any lawful authority and investigation."
—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1