Jho Low keeps police guessing in 1MDB scandal
Jho Low cannot face 13 charges in absentia according to Attorney general
Last week’s announcement that elusive Malaysian billionaire Jho Low owns a Cypriot passport has ignited a fresh storm of uncertainty about his identity, as investigators are trying to track him down for suspected financial crimes linked to the late state fund 1MDB.
The businessman is considered a vital piece of the evidence against former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and a few other high-ranking officials from the previous government in numerous bribery, money laundering and abuse of power proceedings.
Jho Low himself faces 13 allegations against his private entity Good Star for suspected cheating, money laundering and soliciting more than $1 billion from 1MDB.
Although he has never eluded them by the Malaysian authorities, it is suspected that the 38-year-old is deliberately flying on foreign passports given to him for “investments” made with cash allegedly siphoned from the state fund. He reportedly obtained a visa from the Caribbean island country of St. Kitts and Nevis, along with Cyprus, before it was withdrawn, and may have other travel documents.
It turned out that Jho Low was awarded Cypriot nationality in 2015— just before the 1MDB crisis started — under a two-year government program to attract investment and save the local economy from default. Since then, the mechanism of removing passports issued under the citizenship-for-investment program has started in Cyprus.
The inspector-general of police in Malaysia, Hamid Bador, dismissed reports that Jho Low was holed up in Cyprus. “He is still hidden like a chicken in the same country we watched him earlier,” he insisted to reporters without disclosing the venue.
But after allegedly seeking protection in China following Najib’s defeat in the May 2018 referendum, Jho Low is widely believed to be travelling around the Middle East — the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
Previously, an anonymous Jho Low spokesman confirmed that he is seeking asylum in the Middle East. “We recognise that Mr Low was granted protection in August 2019 by a government that operates under the terms of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and European Convention on Human Rights,” AFP cited the spokesperson as saying.
This was confirmed a day after the U.S. reportedly dismissed a civil case against Jho Low. Department of Justice, promising to surrender assets worth more than $700 million, including a Beverly Hills Hilton and a private jet seized from 1MDB, alleged by the DOJ.
Even after one of the most significant anti-corruption cases in U.S. history had been settled, a high-ranking American diplomat told the media that the U.S. still wanted Jho Low for an alleged criminal misdeed.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Attorney-General Tommy Thomas told the Nikkei Asian Review that the allegations against Najib with or without the evidence of Jho Low remain secure and confirmed.
Nevertheless, the attorney general noted that it is not possible to hear the allegations against Jho Low himself before he returns, as the legal system of Malaysia does not require trials in absence.
In the current 1MDB case, in which Najib faces 25 charges for allegedly stealing $555 million from the notorious investment fund, Jho Low’s name was mentioned by every defendant and attorney.
The ninth and star witness, Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi, who served as the chief executive of 1MDB at the time of the alleged misappropriation, blamed Jho Low and Najib for all reported malpractice, including the transfer of funds to unauthorised accounts, abuse of power and money laundering.
The defence team of Najib, led by Shafee Abdullah, pointed to Jho Low as the mastermind behind the ambiguous transactions of 1MDB, insisting that the former prime minister was misled and innocent.