By now, many people will have learnt not to be deceived by this boyish face with a permanent flush and an accompanying hairstyle that fits right into the dress code requirement of a boarding school. This is fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho (better known as Jho Low), who laundered billions of dollars from scores of unwitting Malaysians.
Just how did he accomplish this? Well, according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ), with the help of ‘Malaysian Official #1’ who holds (or held) a high ranking position in the nation’s government and had full access to the now defunct sovereign fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Who is this mysterious ‘Malaysian Official #1’? It could have been anyone really, but the 38 charges of money laundering and criminal breach of trust being faced by former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in relation to 1MDB does make it difficult to find a better-suited candidate to fit the bill.
Najib initially denied ever knowing Jho Low, but was busted after photos of him and his Rosmah hanging out on a yacht owned by Low (hello, Equanimity?) were discovered. His recent interview with Al-Jazeera certainly raised eyebrows as he walked out after being asked about Low. “You keep asking me about Jho Low, I am not in touch with him anymore.”
He also refused to provide an answer as to when he last spoke to Low and whether he felt it was fair that he faced arrest while Low did not. Many must be wondering – if you are truly innocent of all the things you have been accused of, why walk away from an opportunity to tell your side of the story?
Was it a feeling of shame that Jho Low, a young, chubby wannabe had conned him into such a situation, or perhaps anger that the law seemed to be catching up with him but not the other involved party?
Well, his grapes may not taste so sour after all. Last week, it was announced that the DOJ charged Jho Low and two former Goldman Sachs bankers over the 1MDB scandal. In a press release dated 1 November 2018, the DOJ said “a three-count criminal indictment was unsealed in federal court in New York, charging Low Taek Jho, also known as “Jho Low,” and Ng Chong Hwa, also known as “Roger Ng,” with conspiring to launder billions of dollars embezzled from 1MDB, Malaysia’s investment development fund, and conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by paying bribes to various Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials.”
Ng was arrested in Malaysia on 1 November and the DOJ states that he was also charged with conspiring to violate the FCPA by circumventing the internal accounting controls of a major New York-headquartered financial institution. He’s not the only banker to have been charged – fellow banker Tim Leissner, formerly the Southeast Asia Chairman and participating managing director of Goldman Sachs, faced two-counts, one with conspiring to launder money and conspiring to violate the FCPA by both paying bribes to various Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials and secondly, circumventing the internal accounting controls of Goldman Sachs while employed by them. According to court filings, Leissner has been ordered to forfeit $43.7 million as a result of his crimes. He has since pleaded guilty to his charges and agreed to pay the sum.
Both Ng and Leissner have paid a price for their offences. What about Jho Low? The statement simply says that “Low remains at large”. Despite rumours of him using his “Malaysian connections” to fund his extravagant, alcohol-fuelled, party-filled, celebrity-obsessed lifestyle, he is still out there and controversially, he maintains innocence through it all.
In a statement issued on his behalf released by a public relations firm in Sydney, Low asked the public to keep an open mind regarding the case until all the evidence comes to light, believing that this evidence could vindicate him. The statement also said that he held no formal position at 1MDB and added that he was never employed by Goldman Sachs or the Malaysian government or even Abu Dhabi.
“Furthermore, the bond offerings detailed in the indictment (by DOJ) were undertaken openly and lawfully between experienced, well-regulated financial institutions and government entities. The DOJ specifically states that the charges in the indictment are allegations, and that Mr Low is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” the statement reiterated.
With a track record that is questionable to say the least, it will take a mammoth amount of rock solid evidence for people to be convinced of his innocence. Under one scheme involving a 2012 “Project Magnolia” bond offering by 1MDB, Low allegedly told the former Goldman Sachs bankers that they needed to bribe officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi to guarantee that the transactions went through.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes were subsequently paid to officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi. After the bond transaction was executed, more than US$500 million of the bond proceeds were misappropriated into shell companies controlled by the trio as well as other conspirators.
Before the charges were laid by the DOJ, an arrest warrant was issued against Low and his father Tan Sri Low Hock Peng by the Malaysian police. Father and son were slapped with money laundering charges on 24 August 2018 and needless to say, we’re wondering how large a role Low’s father played in this entire debacle. With the new warrant, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun said that a request could be made for Interpol to issue a Red Notice for the fugitive businessman and his father.
How Jho Low will face the music remains to be seen, but one thing is certain – he can’t be on the run forever. Or could he?