A free speech campaign group says that the move is “surprising, concerning and sets a terrible precedent”.
Bookshops around the world have received threatening letters from London-based lawyers representing Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, in an unprecedented attempt to prevent the distribution of a book about his alleged involvement in the 1MDB scandal.
British newspaper The Guardian reported that Jho Low is attempting to block the book Billion Dollar Whale, written by Wall Street Journal reporters Bradley Hope and Tom Wright, from being available for public purchase.
It sighted letters sent to independent bookstores in Britain and around the world, with the lawyers stating in the letter that the decision by some to publish a synopsis of the book constituted an actionable libel of Jho Low.
The Guardian reported that the London-based law firm Schillings wrote to one bookseller saying that it was “astonishing” that the shop had published a description of the book on its website, and warned it that it is “now on notice that serious defamatory material is likely to be contained in the subject book”.
Schillings also reportedly demanded individual booksellers to provide a commitment in writing never to sell the book, detail proposals for compensating Jho Low for the publication of the synopsis, and provide “reimbursement of his legal costs”.
They also told booksellers that if they did not receive a response then they would have no choice but to commence legal proceedings against their bookshop.
In early September, it was reported that the law firm had threatened the publishers of the book to sue for substantial damages on the basis that it assumed the book would repeat “defamatory accusations” previously made about Jho Low.
Schillings did not confirm to The Guardian whether Jho Low was a client of theirs, saying that “we do not talk about clients or matters, neither do we confirm or deny whether any individual or entity is a client of the firm”.
The Guardian also reported that the decision to threaten a book’s distributors rather than the publisher or author could be seen as an attempt to “short-circuit the legal process” around libel law and risks setting a precedent that would intimidate booksellers.
It quoted Robert Sharp of English PEN, a free speech campaign group, as saying that the move is “surprising, concerning and sets a terrible precedent”.
He argued that by focusing on the synopses, “the effect of these legal letters is to short-circuit the legal process, by putting booksellers in an impossible position”.
The book talks about Jho Low’s role in allegedly pulling off one of the biggest heists in global financial history.
The police have filed criminal charges against Jho Low and his father over money allegedly stolen from 1MDB.
The charges for money-laundering were brought against Jho Low and his father Tan Sri Low Hock Peng “in absentia” by the Commercial Crime Investigation Department (CCID) of the police and the Attorney General’s Chambers.
Authorities are still looking for Jho Low, who is believed to be hiding in China.
The police on Friday (Sept 14) said that more than 50 people received money that can be traced to the billions of ringgit of 1MDB-linked funds that went into Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s bank account, with political figures among the recipients. – The Star