Low Taek Jho, also called Jho Low, was once considered a savvy businessman from Malaysia who loved living it up. He was often seen at expensive clubs in the US and partied with celebrities. Not just that, Jho was close to the then-Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak. Later, Jho came to the authorities’ attention due to his alleged role in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a sovereign wealth fund co-founded by Najib back in the day, and the ensuing financial scandal. The latest episode of ABC News’ ‘The Con’ features Jho’s story. Over the past few years, the authorities have continued to look for him while he has successfully evaded capture. So, let’s find out more about him then, shall we?
Who is Jho Low?
Jho Low was born in Penang, Malaysia, and had later talked about coming from a family with considerable wealth. He studied in London, England, and around that time, became friends with Riza Aziz, Najib’s stepson. Later, Jho went to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and began connecting with kids from prominent families in the Middle East. By the time Jho graduated, he had already started managing money for, in his words, “my family and close Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian friends.”
Soon after college, Jho began orchestrating deals in Malaysia; he brought in money from the Middle East. By 2009, he began floating the idea of a sovereign wealth fund, which became a reality when Riza’s stepfather, Najib Razak, became the Prime Minister. The 1MDB was a government-owned wealth fund set up to bring up the country’s economic development, with Najib being the chairman of the board of advisors. All this while, Jho continued making connections, managed his friends’ money, and looked for real estate opportunities.
While Jho was never given an official title in 1MDB, he had previously maintained that he consulted occasionally. By 2015, there had been questions regarding where 1MDB’s funding went because there had been missed payments to banks and shareholders. The authorities later noticed that around $4.5 billion from the fund had been diverted for personal use, with companies connected to Jho buying lavish mansions in California, a penthouse in New York, expensive art, and even financing ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013).
Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin, a former special officer who worked for Najib, shared what he believed accurate regarding Jho and Najib’s relationship. During Najib’s tenure in the office, Jho allegedly made investment decisions while the rest were forced to do what he asked them to. According to Amhari, Jho even sent the PM’s aides to China and the Middle East to secure projects to pull 1MDB out of debt. Amhari also alleged that Jho ran the daily operations in the PM’s office.
In May 2018, Jho, who was on the run, spoke to the Malaysian government regarding the scandal. In the recordings that surfaced, he talked about others involved and claimed to have only borrowed the 1MDB fund money. Jho added, “All these ultimately were loans, directly or indirectly, but, ultimately, I think the time has come; we want to assist in repatriating these assets back in return for cooperating and moving on with life without, you know, being prosecuted.”
Jho also placed the blame on Najib, adding that everything that happened required approval from Najib and that he didn’t have any authority or decision-making powers. Not just that, Jho claimed that Najib spent more than half a billion dollars on his wife’s jewelry, including a $27 million pink diamond that Jho had purchased. Earlier, in July 2016, about $240 million in assets were seized in relation to the same investigation in Singapore, of which around half was Jho’s.
Where is Jho Low Today?
As of June 2020, at least six countries were investigating the 1MDB scandal, and Jho has been accused of laundering money into several nations. Apart from that, Jho and Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, a rapper, was accused of conspiring to use illegal foreign money as legitimate campaign funds during the 2012 elections. In June 2021, the US authorities alleged Jho tried to get the investigation into the 1MDB scandal to drop through a back-channel campaign to the Trump administration.
For now, Jho is a fugitive and remains on the run. During his conversations with the Malaysian government, he mentioned being in China. He was also known to have traveled to Thailand, Kuwait, and India despite his passports from Malaysia, St Kitts, and Cyprus being canceled. At the time, he was believed to have used a Grenada passport. The Malaysian police stated that Jho was living in Macau, China, but the Chinese government denied it.
Other sources mentioned that Jho has been living in Macau at a residence owned by a Chinese politician since at least February 2018. Ultimately, the authorities felt that Jho had been receiving assistance from high-level government officials, making his travel possible. As of July 2018, he was involved in two companies in Hong Kong, China, as the CEO. In July 2022, the Malaysian government rejected an offer from Jho worth $337 million to settle the case against him.
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