Fugitive Jho Low quietly building up an army of foreign agents and firms amid mounting investigations into his financial dealings.
As investigations into billions of dollars that disappeared from 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) continue to mount across the globe, Low Taek Jho, who often goes by Jho Low, and his co-conspirators are facing criminal charges in the US.
Left on the run from the agents of multiple countries, Low has enlisted a team of lawyers and communications specialists to deal with the multibillion-dollar scandal’s fallout.
Jho Low’s foreign influence team
Records identified by the Center for Responsive Politics using the Foreign Lobby Watch tool reveal that Low’s operation has added new firms and individuals, racking up at least a seven-figure bill for a conglomeration of reputation management and communications services aimed at currying influence in the US.
Two crisis-management firms added earlier this month were hired to provide digital reputation management and public relations services for his “various ongoing legal proceedings”.
These previously unreported contracts with firms identified by the Center for Responsive Politics bring the cost of campaigns to unsully Low’s image to more than US$1.38 million since mid-2018.
Helmed by two high-powered law firms, Kobre and Kim and Schillings International, the cost of Low’s legal defence and influence operation may be much higher.
The operation epitomises a new breed of litigation communications operatives who have played a behind-the-scenes role in helping burnish the image of wealthy individuals and corporations entangled in international legal battles – for a price.
The identity of who is bankrolling the operation remains as much of a mystery as Low’s location.
Both firms’ registration statements include claims that have “received funds on behalf of the foreign principal” from a third party, but neither has disclosed the identity of that financier.
The United States Department of Justice (DoJ) also reportedly began investigating if Low laundered tens of millions of dollars to pay a US legal team that included former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, longtime Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz and the Trump Organization’s ethics adviser Bobby Burchfield.
Levick Strategic Communications, a firm recently hired by Kobre and Kim, raked in a US$50,000 advance retainer to provide “strategic communications advice, counsel and execution in contemplation of ongoing, high profile investigations with heavy press scrutiny” and “related to various ongoing legal proceedings” from February 21 through March 6, according to DoJ records.
The registration materials submitted to the DoJ for Levick and another newly added firm, Reevemark LLC, note that Low “identifies himself as a global philanthropist, investor and entrepreneur.”
Reevemark is set to receive US$175,000 for its work promoting Low from Feb 15 through the end of March followed by monthly payments of US$125,000.
Reevemark is a New York-based strategic communications shop started last year by former Sard Verbinnen partners, and Low is their first foreign principal.
Reportedly, the DoJ is investigating whether US$100,000 donated to the Trump re-election campaign’s joint fundraising committee, Trump Victory, may have been funnelled from Low in violation of campaign finance laws barring foreign money in US elections.
The media reported that other lucrative deals included a US$50,000 per month fee paid by Kobre and Kim to PRCG Haggerty LLC for the first three months of service and US$55,000 per month to Marathon Strategies – a firm founded by longtime Democratic campaign operative Phil Singer – for media relations and digital services starting in August 2018.
Kobre and Kim also inked a US$70,000 per month contract with digital reputation management firm FiveBlocks and a US$13,315 contract with London-based public relations firm PHA Group.
Najib’s foreign influence team
Meanwhile, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also embroiled in the 1MDB scandal, has paid for his own paths to influence.
He enlisted hard-hitting firms in the US, including a firm run by former US Attorney General John Ashcroft and another newer firm known for close ties to the Trump administration.
Najib’s foreign agent on record at the firm is Mark Corallo, the former spokesperson for President Trump’s private legal team in the Russia investigation.
Another firm promoting Najib’s interests is the 45 Group, a firm started by former Trump campaign aide Healy Baumgardner-Nardone.
The firm was hired to help Malaysia with “arranging meetings between US government officials and Malaysian officials and advocating on strengthening relations between the US and Malaysia,” but reported being paid six-figures by another firm that is registered in the British Virgin Islands but lists an address in Malaysia.
Neither Kobre and Kim nor Schillings International responded to requests for comment, according to The Edge Markets.