Talks about his 1MDB role, political asylum, cancer, and philanthropy.
- Insists he is not the mastermind of the alleged fraud of 1MDB
- Claims he acted as “introducer and intermediary”, helping to build Malaysian-Saudi relationships
- Hails recent sweeping agreement reached with the US DoJ as “hugely positive development”
- Suggests “looking forward” to returning to Malaysia to face the law one day
- Distrusts Putrajaya will give him a fair trial, guarantee his safety
- Hints of asylum offer from European country last August
- Reveals “brushes with cancer”
- Focusing on philanthropy, “investing in cutting-edge cancer research”
Wanted Penang-born Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, insists that he is not the mastermind of the alleged fraud of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) as portrayed publicly.
The fugitive said he only acted as an intermediary for deals involving 1MDB, denying that he had set the stage for the theft of billions of dollars from the Malaysian state fund.
He did not explain the source of his wealth, and while stressing his innocence, did not pin the blame for the 1MDB scandal on anyone.
In his first interview with the media since fleeing Malaysia in 2015, Low told The Straits Times that he is a convenient scapegoat in the multibillion-dollar global financial scandal by virtue of not being a politician.
“The reality is that I am an easy target for all of those above given the fact that I am not a politician,” he was quoted as saying to the Singapore daily in a question-and-answer style article published today.
He described himself as an “introducer and intermediary”, a cog in the wheel who had been “requested to assist” the governments of Malaysia and those in the Middle East purportedly due to his “good relationships with influential foreign businessmen and decision-makers”.
He did not disclose the identity of his requester, whether the person was Malaysian or otherwise, in the email interview.
“In the case of 1MDB and SRC, there were also international bankers, lawyers and other independent professionals that advised and supported the companies in their respective processes,” he said.
“With all of that in mind, the inordinate amount of media scrutiny on me compared to that placed on the global financial and other institutions and advisers that actually organised and facilitated the fundraisings at issue is astounding.”
Low portrayed himself as a middleman one who “worked for the benefit of Malaysia and advanced Malaysia’s Government-to-Government connections with key allies”.
He described his role as a government intermediary as having helped to build relationships that have “directly or indirectly assisted Malaysia, including helping Malaysians that were stranded during the crisis in Egypt to get safely back home to Malaysia via Saudi Arabia; the increase in Haj quotas for Malaysian Muslims”, among others.
He painted bilateral ties between Malaysia and Saudi Arabia as at a “historic high” during the Najib administration.
“This was demonstrated by the many meetings and communications between former Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Razak and the then King of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the then Saudi Minister of Finance.
“In one particular demonstration of the strength of the relationship with Malaysia, the Saudi government, arranged for an official envoy to fly to Subang airport for an in-person meeting with former Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Razak in Malaysia,” he claimed.
Low faces charges in the US and Malaysia for his alleged central role in defrauding up to US$4.5 billion (RM18.5 billion) from 1MDB, the subject of the US Department of Justice’s (DoJ) largest ever anti-kleptocracy case.
Low hailed a recent sweeping agreement reached with the DoJ in its civil case against him as a “hugely positive development” and suggested that he may return to Malaysia to face the law at an indeterminate date.
“This settlement sets us on a new path forward. I am looking forward to the day when the political climate in Malaysia is such that I feel safe enough to return home and the rule of law will be respected so that the facts can be presented, and I can vigorously defend myself,” he was quoted as saying.
This echoed his previous statements issued through his foreign publicists and repeated on his personal website set up after the fraud accusations were levied against him and his family who have also fled the country.
Low reiterated his distrust of the Malaysian government to give him a fair trial, saying Putrajaya’s actions have contradicted its statements.
“The Malaysian government’s actual actions contradict their statements, such as telling the media that they will ‘guarantee’ my safety and that I will have a fair trial,” Low said.
“(But) take, for example, the seizure of my family’s home. That home was owned by my family decades before 1MDB even existed.
“The Malaysian government seized it under the false pretence that it was somehow related to 1MDB, and we had to get a court to force them to hand over the purported ‘evidence’ they were relying upon for seizure.
“When the documents were finally released, it was revealed that the Malaysian government hadn’t even attempted to try to link the purchase of the home to 1MDB, because they simply can’t.”
Low was asked why he continued to remain in hiding while saying he wanted to tell his side of the story, and why should the public believe him when he refused to return to Malaysia for trial.
“It is difficult to believe the Malaysian government is serious about ‘guaranteeing’ my safety, when at the same time senior officials and politicians have openly speculated about the use of kidnapping and other illegal operations to bring me to Malaysia; actions that contravene both international human rights and laws in foreign jurisdictions.”
Low also launched a verbal attack against Malaysia, repeating his past accusations of the Pakatan Harapan government “ignoring the rule of law and pursuing a diversionary strategy in the media to distract from the real problems in Malaysia, such as racism, diminishing respect on the international stage, and others”.
The man who remains just beyond the reach of Malaysian police claimed that he had been offered asylum half a year ago but refused to disclose the nation’s name out of “serious personal safety concerns”.
“However, I can confirm that I was offered asylum in August 2019 by a country that acts in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) on the basis of the political persecution to which I have been subjected and the continuing violation of my human rights.”
The Straits Times said it understood the country to be in Europe.
The ECHR is an international human rights treaty signed by 47 countries, part of the Council of Europe (CoE).
Cyprus is among the signatory member states. It was reported last November that Low had obtained a Cypriot passport.
Low declined to divulge his current location, but the daily reported that his current whereabouts are “widely believed” to be in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
It is not clear from the interview whether he is in the country that had offered him asylum or not.
Malaysian police have claimed to know Low’s whereabouts but declined to reveal it. Malaysian police chief Abdul Hamid Bador, however, dismissed speculation the fugitive was in the UAE.
Low was also previously believed to be in China.
Abdul Hamid, who has initially promised to bring Low back to Malaysia to face 1MDB-related charges by the end of last year, accused other countries of failing to cooperate, even refusing to acknowledge Low had been in their countries, despite evidence.
Despite being on the run, Low has frequently issued statements through his lawyers, maintaining his innocence in the 1MDB affair.
Going forward, Low said he is now focusing his efforts on philanthropy “as someone who has had multiple brushes with cancer – devote substantial effort to investing in cutting-edge cancer research”.
He did not indicate if those cancer scares were diagnoses on himself or family or close friends.
“I would cherish the opportunity to reinvigorate my philanthropic efforts and to give back to the community and help others in any way I can.
“I am confident that when all is said and done, people will see me in a very different light to how I am portrayed now,” he was quoted as saying in the interview.
Like many of his cryptic emailed responses issued through his publicists, Low’s interview with The Straits Times continued to evade many questions and throw up new ones concerning his role in 1MDB.