The tussle for control of New Zealand trusts said to own $233 million in assets - including a private jet, Manhattan penthouses and a Los Angeles mansion - begins in court this morning.

The case is one tendril of sprawling legal action being taken globally following alleged multi-billion dollar fraud at Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

In July the United States Department of Justice filed forfeiture orders against more than a billion dollars in assets - including rights to Hollywood film The Wolf of Wall Street - alleging that had been bought with the proceeds of $5b in misappropriations from 1MDB.

Malaysian financier Jho Low is named in the Department case as being the recipient of much of the funds, but relatives of his sought to intervene in US courts claiming an interest in a large tranche of the assets via being beneficiaries of New Zealand foreign trusts that owned.


The relative's case was complicated by current trustees - Swiss-based Rothschild - being unwilling to challenge the forfeiture orders, and US court filings suggested the trustees were seeking assurances from United States authorities before agreeing to being replaced.

The defending hearing in Auckland this morning is understood to concern an application by relatives of Low to replace Rothschild, who oversee the New Zealand trusts said in filing sot own assets forth $233m, with Cayman-based law firm FPP.

A letter from FPP to United States courts outlining the action said it feared a lack of prompt challenge to the forfeiture orders meant the assets could be "lost by default".

The hearing has drawn international interest and is scheduled to begin at 11am.