Jho Low: The Man Who Knew Too Much

By Ariff Roose

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“Did Najib know what Jho Low was doing?”,  asks Tom Wright, co-author of “Billion Dollar Whale”, in an exclusive interview with BFM89.9.

Tom Wright, along with his colleague Bradley Hope, have been chasing the 1MDB scandal since 2015. Their comprehensive reporting detailed every inch of the money trail - casting the global spotlight on former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his coalition. The resulting pressure led Najib to attack the Wall Street Journal, calling them “thinly sourced, and a disgrace to journalism”.

The former Prime Minister’s comments spurred the two Pulitzer Prize-finalists to dig deeper into the scandal. Evidence of Najib Razak’s involvement in the 1MDB scandal was quickly publicised and eventually used as ammunition by the federal opposition to turn the tide in the 14th General Elections. But as more details of the scandal were revealed, so too, did the face of its true architect.

Tom Wright, Wall Street Journal reporter and Pulitzer-finalist. Image: University of Hong Kong

“[We] think only Jho Low has a 360 degree view of what was going on,” said Wright. As the advisor in 1MDB, Low created a vast network of offshore accounts, private banks and questionable transactions that disguised the spread of US$4.5 billion into the hands of 1MDB officials. And as chief-architect, Low had access to a sizeable chunk of its purse (over US$1 billion) to fund his growing appetite for the glamour and gaude of Hollywood. 

According to Wright, Low’s lust for Hollywood recognition stood out in the money trail of 1MDB. What was found was simple: his reputation in Hollywood grew simultaneously with the 1MDB scandal - with him eventually becoming “the center of the Hollywood world“. 

Jho Low, with Leonardo DiCaprio at the premier of The Wolf of Wall Street, in 2013. Source: Getty Images

“He doesn’t ever give in, and it’s very hard to see where he covers the holes in the scam. It just evolves and keeps getting bigger,” said Wright.

His presence in Hollywood was solidified in speech at the 2014 Golden Globe Awards by Leonardo DiCaprio, who thanked Low (among others) for “being not only collaborators but taking a risk on this movie”. The next few years saw Low host lavish parties in penthouses, mingle with A-list celebrities, and spend more millions on maintaining his minted reputation in Hollywood. But even as the unravelling of the 1MDB scandal put Low’s wealth and reputation into question, he continued servicing his lifestyle.

“Even at the end as the Malaysian media were writing about the money that was supposedly in the Cayman Islands, … Jho Low is [still] using it to buy the Equanimity - his yacht. He doesn’t ever give in, and it’s very hard to see where he covers the holes in the scam. It just evolves and keeps getting bigger.”

According to Wright, Jho Low appears to live without the burden of the scandal on his conscience, and with only traces of his whereabouts: “The big unanswered question is ‘where is he?’ … and will the Mahathir government be able to pull strings with whichever govt he needs to get him to come home? That will be the big question.”

“Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World” is a book written by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, the two Wall Street Journal reporters credited for their accurate reporting on the 1MDB scandal. The book lands in stores on September 18. 



Tom Wright, 1MDB, Jho Low, Najib Razak, GE14, Bradley Hope, Billion Dollar Whale, Scandals.