Fugitive businessperson Low Taek Jho may have earned a “playboy” reputation from his high-profile courtship of celebrities with the likes of Paris Hilton, Miranda Kerr, and Elva Hsiao but little is known about his long-time girlfriend – and later wife – Jesselynn Chuan Teik Ying, who appeared to have stayed on with Low as international investigators pursued him for the alleged multi-billion-ringgit theft of 1MDB funds.
Low’s partying with famous women was well-documented, but only limited information has been gleaned about Chuan, mostly from eyewitness accounts, some published in a book written by journalists Bradley Hope and Tom Wright who investigated the 1MDB scandal.
However, new information recently surfaced showing that Chuan had, in 2019, sought to follow in her husband’s footsteps to secure safe haven in Cyprus – an easy gateway to the European Union.
This is according to a joint investigation by Sarawak Report and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) which looked into a UK firm’s role in helping Low and his associates secure Cypriot citizenship.
The investigation found that London-based Henley & Partners, despite denying it aided Low to obtain Cypriot citizenship, had facilitated the acquisition through Cyprus-based partner FidesCorp Services Limited.
Henley & Partners pocketed 710,000 euros (RM3.47 million) in commission and fees. The firm maintained it did not act inappropriately and blamed individual staff members for failing to follow procedure.
Low secured his Cypriot passport in 2015, even as the 1MDB scandal blew up and international investigators closed in on him.
The investigation revealed that Chuan tried to do the same in 2019, but her application was scuttled as Low’s Cypriot link was exposed in the same year, courting heavy scrutiny on Cyprus’ “citizenship-for-investment” scheme.
“By 2019, Low was one of the most famous fugitives in the world. But this didn’t prevent his Cypriot service providers from lending a helping hand yet again,” OCCRP said.
Chuan applied for Cypriot citizenship in May 2019, with FidesCorp once again acting as an agent.
However, she was out of luck. The Cyprus government was taking heat and there was too much public attention.
“Her application was withdrawn around the same time the scandal broke,” reported OCCRP.
Low’s Cypriot passport had even entangled the head of Cyprus’ Christian Orthodox church who lobbied on behalf of Low after he promised a handsome donation.
Low obtained the Cypriot passport through the Cyprus Investment Plan, which requires an interested party to deposit five million euros in a Cypriot bank for three years and buy a permanent home worth at least 500,000 euros (RM2.44 million).
According to leaked documents obtained by Sarawak Report and the OCCRP, Low listed that the funds for the purpose of the citizenship would be wired from HSBC in Hong Kong.
Malaysiakini, in a previous special report with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), revealed that HSBC only took action on Low’s suspicious activities in 2017, around two years after several jurisdictions commenced investigations against Low.
Low’s brother Low Taek Szen and 1MDB co-conspirators Loo Ai Swan and Tan Kim Loong also applied for Cypriot citizenships, but Chuan’s application was the most recent.
Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris told OCCRP that neither Taek Szen, Loo or Tan’s citizenship applications were approved but declined to comment on their property acquisition in the country.
The trio made their application around the same time as Low, in 2015.
The Cyprus government suspended the citizenship programme last year amid pressure from the EU. it also stripped the citizenship of 26 individuals including a Malaysian but did not disclose if it was Low.
The fact that Low’s wife had, as recently as 2019, attempted to similarly obtain a Cypriot passport – a costly endeavour – suggests that Low and associates still have access to a substantial amount of funds.
The book “Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World” described Chuan as the daughter of a seafood restaurateur in Penang.
It said she had been an “on-and-off” girlfriend of Low’s and had tolerated his penchant for showering gifts on other women.
Before the 1MDB scandal exploded, Low frequently flew Chuan to the US but kept her away from his partying.
She was among guests who attended the film premiere of The Wolf of Wall Street which Low had allegedly bankrolled with his ill-gotten gain.
Chuan was seated next to Low’s mother during the premiere in New York during the winter of 2013, according to the book.
It added that Chuan was in 2015 spotted with Low, carrying a baby boy. – Malaysiakini