After pulling off the world’s biggest financial scandal, where is the billionaire fugitive hiding?
He allegedly had more cash at any one time than anyone in history; he staged parties of breath-taking extravagance, and once organized a Las Vegas party that stunned even that jaded city, with Britney Spears jumping out of a birthday cake in a vast hangar before a crowd of celebrities-for-hire, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Alicia Keys, Ludacris, Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, and Kanye West.
Unofficial adviser to recently ousted Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, financier Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, once lost 2 million USD at baccarat in 10 minutes. He treated money like it wasn’t his own—and now, both the US and Malaysian government, as well as numerous law enforcement agencies and investigative journalists, are saying it wasn’t.
Moreover, it’s alleged that Beijing may have answers to the whereabouts of Low, who is accused of pulled off the world’s biggest financial scandal, siphoning off at least 5 billion USD in funds from the Najib government’s infamous 1MDB sovereign-wealth fund and spending 85 million USD on Vegas parties alone.
The babyfaced billionaire has denied the accusations, denouncing a new book by journalists Tom Wright and Bradley Hope as “guilt by lifestyle and trial by media at its worst.” But in Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World, the authors detail transactions among 1MDB managers, global financial institutions, and sovereign wealth funds said to be part of a web of global corruption, with Low right at the center, “running the show.”
There has been speculation since at least July that Low—often mistakenly identified as Chinese in early media reports—had crossed the Hong Kong border (where police had apparently ignored or failed to act on an international Interpol red notice) into Beijing’s direct control. Investigative blog Sarawak Report alleges that “Malaysia’s wanted man, who can tell all over Najib’s kleptocratic dealings (and China’s own involvement)” has now become “a useful bargaining chip to help save face in the up-coming diplomatic wranglings and renegotiations” of Chinese-funded construction projects with Malaysia’s new government.
Lho, who (through his lawyer) denies being under Beijing’s protection, has been described as a “strategic asset” who, nevertheless, is living as a “free man” (though his Malaysian passport has been cancelled), fully intending to beat the rap from China, and retire in exile, like some corrupt despot toppled from power in his twilight years.
Before Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s five-day trip to Beijing in August, a Malaysian police chief told reporters, “Some say [Lho] is in China, so we called our Chinese counterparts, but they could not find him either.” As Mahathir returned to Kuala Lumpur, he simply smiled diplomatically: “I do not know whether Jho Low is in China.”
Cover image via Guardian