The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) journalist who co-authored a book on Jho Low’s alleged role in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) affair says the fugitive businessman is not a financial genius, just an opportunistic person who never gives up.
Describing Jho Low:
- Uncanny ability to “work a room” to his benefit
- High tolerance for risks
- Does not have “the normal run of human emotions”
Tom Wright, who wrote The Billion Dollar Whale with fellow journalist Bradley Hope, said Low was not a financial genius for pulling off the 1MDB schemes as investigators he spoke to have told him that Low did not try very hard to hide his tracks.
The money trail was easily tracked down once investigators began to probe, Wright said.
Actually, the “amazing thing” about Low was his ability to “work a room” to his benefit.
“The thing that he did that was so amazing is that he was always able to go into a room, see who was powerful, work out how that power could help him and connect that person to another powerful person and put himself into the mix.
“That was really his genius,” he said.
With that “genius”, Low connected Middle Eastern investors with former prime minister Najib Razak and brought funds into the country.
Wright was speaking in an interview with radio station BFM today.
Until today, Wright added, Low remained active, even to the extent of trying to reach out and “help” Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Wright, who is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, also described Low as optimistic, saying he had a “high tolerance for risks” and did not have “the normal run of human emotions”.
“There is something driving this guy that makes him an extremely interesting character but it is not something that’s easily relatable for us,” Wright said.
He cited the example of how Low was undeterred when his involvement with 1MDB was revealed and when he was named in the US Department of Justice (DOJ) lawsuits.
“Even after he is exiled from Malaysia in 2015 by Najib Razak, he goes to China and persuades CEOs of state companies to invest in, you know, the East Coast Rail Link. He never gives up.
“Even now, he’s texting and sending messages to the new Malaysian government. ‘Look, I’ll help you with your meetings, even Mahathir’s meetings in New York, and help you get back your assets. You’ll never get your assets back if you don’t include me’.
“Most people, I’m sure would have given up and given ourselves in,” Wright said.
Wright began writing on the 1MDB issue after WSJ broke the news about the scandal at the state-owned investment fund.
In the interview today, he also questioned the extent of Najib’s involvement in the issue, saying he may have taken “a lot of money”, but “Low is the only person with a 360-degree view”.
1MDB is under investigation in at least six countries, including the US where it has become the biggest case pursued by the DoJ under its anti-kleptocracy programme.
The DoJ alleged in lawsuits that more than US$4.5 billion from 1MDB was laundered through a complex web of transactions and shell companies, US$681 million of which ended up in Najib’s bank account.
Najib claims that the bulk of the money was given to him by the Saudi royal family to fund his party’s efforts.
Wright said he had tried for three years to get Low to talk, but that the businessman had refused to contribute or defend himself.
He also questioned claims that Low would strike a deal with the DoJ over his role in 1MDB, calling these “very speculative”.
“Jho Low won’t get a deal cut. He is at the centre of a fraud.
“If you are the centre of a fraud, how do you plea bargain? It is not as if the DOJ is going to say, ‘Hey Jho Low, we are going to cut you a deal here’.
“No, that’s not going to happen,” he said.