A peek into Jho Low living the life of a fugitive.
- After May 9, telephoned new PH government with the proposition that he would return more than $1 billion in assets and come home in return for immunity from prosecution, but his offer was turned down
- Summoned his family and entourage to Marriott Hotel in Macau to discuss situation and implement more stringent security protocols
- In a penthouse suite, staff and family members packed up suitcases of documents
- Two burly Chinese men worked out Low’s logistics on laptops
- As they left, an aide wiped down countertops with alcohol to remove any fingerprints
- Low began moving between hotel suites and luxury apartments in Chinese cities, including Hong Kong and Shanghai
- Reportedly has a wife and two young children as well as close associates in tow
- At times, travelled with a Chinese security detail and bragged about “working with Chinese intelligence”
- Through June and into July, lived freely in China
- Believed now being harboured in mainland China
- Trying to help Beijing get fugitive Guo Wengui back to China from US
- China expected to use Low as a bargaining chip to negotiate deals with Malaysia
Malaysian officials believe China has been harbouring one of the world’s most-wanted financial fugitives, the financier the US Justice Department alleges is at the centre of the $4.5 billion theft from a Malaysian development fund.
Singapore confirmed this summer that it has been pursuing 36-year-old Jho Low via an Interpol Red Notice for the past two years. Malaysia has been trying to arrest him since June.
But through June and into July, Mr Low had been living freely in China, a person aware of his travels said.
Malaysian prosecutors sent a police contingent in June to search for him in Hong Kong and Macau. Both times, local authorities told them he had just flown out, Malaysian police said. Several Malaysian officials say they believe he is now being harboured in mainland China after helping the country with business deals and diplomacy as the 1MDB scandal blew up.
When Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad kicks off a trip to China on Friday for meetings with officials including President Xi Jinping, a request to extradite Mr Low will be high on the agenda, said the officials, who are helping prepare for the trip. Malaysia doesn’t have an extradition treaty with China.
Mr Low had a close relationship with former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who in turn was courted by China. Malaysia’s new government suspects Mr Low helped arrange infrastructure projects, financed by China, from which funds were diverted to cover debts owed by 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB, a former Malaysian official who worked in the prime minister’s office said.
Some of those deals fell under China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, Beijing’s Marshall Plan-like regional-development effort.
Mr Low maintains his innocence, spokespersons for his lawyers said. “He will not submit to any jurisdiction where guilt has been predetermined by politics and self-interest manipulated under the guise of law,” they said in an emailed comment.
The alleged efforts to hide the losses at 1MDB ended with Mr Najib’s unexpected election defeat in May.
The election result spooked Mr Low, who summoned his family and entourage to the Marriott Hotel in Macau just after the May 9 vote to discuss the situation and implement more stringent security protocols, people familiar with his activities said.
In a penthouse suite, staff and family members packed up suitcases of documents as a pair of burly Chinese men worked out Mr Low’s logistics on laptops, one of the people said. As they left, an aide to Mr Low wiped down countertops with alcohol to remove any fingerprints, the person said.
Mr Low then began moving between hotel suites and luxury apartments in Chinese cities, including Hong Kong and Shanghai, with his wife, two young children and close associates, the people said.
At times, he has travelled with a Chinese security detail and bragged about “working with Chinese intelligence,” the people said.
Meanwhile, Malaysia’s new government has been working closely with US Justice Department prosecutors, as well as authorities in Switzerland and Singapore, to investigate Mr Low’s alleged role in 1MDB.
The Justice Department alleges Mr Low used stolen money to finance a billionaire’s lifestyle in the US, where he befriended Leonardo DiCaprio, gave jewellery to Miranda Kerr and financed the movie ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’.
Singapore, too, has been frustrated in its efforts to seize Mr Low. In July, police there said they had asked Hong Kong to arrest him in 2016 but were turned down. Hong Kong’s Department of Justice declined to comment. Singapore said at the time it continues to seek Mr Low’s arrest.
Requests for comment from China’s Foreign Ministry went unanswered.
China openly sided with Mr Najib ahead of the May election. Beijing’s ambassador to Malaysia campaigned with members of Mr Najib’s coalition on the streets of Johor, a southern Malaysian city. Election posters featured Mr Najib meeting Mr Xi.
In July, Mr Najib was arrested in Malaysia on charges, including money laundering. He denies wrongdoing and is out on bail.
Mr Mahathir also has suspended more than $20 billion in Chinese infrastructure projects and is seeking to renegotiate or cancel them. Malaysian officials have alleged that a railway project and a pipeline deal may have been inflated in value, with the excess stolen, some of it used to pay off 1MDB debt.
Current Malaysian officials said they expect China to negotiate hard over the deals and believe Beijing sees Mr Low as a bargaining chip and won’t hand him over easily.
China’s Foreign Ministry and the state-owned companies involved have denied any money was taken from the projects. Mr Xi’s government hasn’t commented on Mr Low’s alleged role in the negotiations or confirmed his continued presence in China.
Mr Low has taken other opportunities to be helpful to Beijing. In mid-2017, intermediaries working on his behalf talked with venture capitalist and prominent Republican donor Elliott Broidy about how to get a fugitive Chinese businessman sent back to China, according to two people familiar with the discussions and emails reviewed by the Journal.
A law firm owned by Mr Broidy’s wife, Robin Rosenzweig, was hired in 2017 to provide “strategic advice” to Mr Low, a lawyer for the couple has said.
China had been pressuring the US to extradite Guo Wengui, an outspoken critic of Beijing who resides in a luxury apartment in New York City and claims to have valuable information on top Chinese officials and business magnates. China says Mr Guo is wanted in connection with 19 major criminal cases. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Multiple emails from Mr Broidy, including to a US political consultant named Nickie Lum Davis, detailed the possibility of pressing the US administration to extradite Mr Guo in 2017. One of the emails referred to an expectation of being paid by China. Mr Guo was never extradited.
Ms Davis, who the emails show was working on Mr Low’s behalf, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Mr Broidy said through a spokesman that the leak of his emails was “driven by hackers who want to undermine me and the Gulf states who have imposed sanctions on Qatar for its support of terrorism,” adding that his team in some cases, “have been unable to authenticate the documents that are circulating to the media.” Qatar has denied the claims.
The emails came from a group calling itself Hollywood Leaks, which allowed the Journal to review the messages.
Regardless of any protection, Mr Low appears to be hedging his bets. After the shock election result, he contacted the new Malaysian government by telephone with a proposition. He would return more than $1 billion in assets and come home in return for Malaysia granting him immunity from prosecution, people familiar with the negotiations said.
The offer was refused.