Jasmine Loo set to sing like a canary as witness in 1MDB scandal

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Jho Low might want to see how the authorities treat Loo before making his next move to also negotiate and surrender.

Her two luxury cars (Audi Q5 and Volkswagen Beetle) and cash amounting to RM22,000 had been seized by the Malaysian authorities. A condominium at the posh Mont Kiara too was gone. But those were peanuts compared to US$16 million (RM73.44 million) pocketed by Jasmine Loo Ai Swan, a former lawyer of the scandalous 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) sovereign fund.

So, after on the run for eight years as a fugitive, exactly why did the associate of Jho Low surrender? Despite an announcement by Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution that Loo was arrested on July 7 to assist in investigations into the misappropriation of 1MDB funds, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Razarudin Husain confirmed that Loo actually had “surrendered” herself to the police.

The police chief said – “She came together with her lawyer when she was arrested. She has been remanded while we conduct a criminal breach of trust investigation. We will conduct our probe and cooperate with other agencies in their investigations, including the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). We will also check with the Securities Commission if Loo is wanted to assist its investigations.”

Had Jasmine refused to surrender, there was no way the incompetent Malaysian police could arrest her. After all, a number of ex-police chiefs have come and gone, each boasting they knew about the whereabouts of Jho Low and were about to arrest the 1MDB mastermind, who was also the partner-in-crime of ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Loo was just one of Low’s associates. On Dec 4, 2018, the Magistrate Court issued arrest warrants against Low, Loo, Casey Tang Keng Chee (former 1MDB executive director), Geh Choh Heng (former 1MDB official) and Eric Tan Kim Loon. Another fugitive, Kee Kok Thiam, was arrested when he arrived at KLIA Terminal 2 (May 3, 2023), but mysteriously died of stroke on May 30.

Interestingly, the authorities have been incredibly secretive about how long Jasmine will be remanded – suggesting that she could be under the witness protection programme to ensure her safety. Coincidentally, Low’s sidekick surrendered at a time when her name was repetitively mentioned during Najib’s ongoing corruption trial for stealing RM2.3 billion from 1MDB.

On Dec 15, 2018, Loo was charged in absentia with two counts of money laundering over US$6 million received in her account – River Dee International SA (BVI) – in Falcon Private Bank AG in Zurich on Dec 6, 2012, and July 1, 2014. She faces a fine not exceeding RM5 million or imprisonment not exceeding five years, or both. Obviously, her reward did not match her sacrifices.

The clearest sign that she will sing like a canary as a witness to nail crooked Najib with more jail sentences is her assurance through attorneys to give full cooperation to the authorities in the ongoing 1MDB investigations. The red flag spooking the former premier is a statement saying she has absolute trust and confidence in the Malaysian judicial and legal system.

No crooks in their right mind would say they have confidence in the country’s corrupted systems – unless “a deal” is struck. Jasmine might miss her family and food in Malaysia, but she also realized the current Anwar-led unity government could be her best bet to surrender in exchange for a lighter sentence, or even freedom by assisting the government in expediting asset recovery.

Her return to Malaysia also happens after Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim revealed in May that his government was working with Beijing through “diplomatic channels” to extradite Low, who was believed to be still hiding in China, back to Malaysia to face the music. In April, Anwar’s trip to China secured a record RM170 billion worth of investment commitments.

Bradley Hope, an investigative journalist for The Wall Street Journal and one of the co-authors of the Billion Dollar Whale book about the 1MDB corruption scandal, said China could offer to repatriate Low to Malaysia as part of a deal that would see the Anwar administration facilitate more Chinese projects. One of them could be Huawei’s construction of a second 5G network in the country.

The US-DOJ investigation results say that over US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from the 1MDB fund, with some of the money used to finance Hollywood films and buy hotels, a private jet, the luxury Equanimity superyacht, Picasso paintings, jewellery and real estate. More than US$700 million (hence the infamous RM2.6 billion) from the fund landed in Najib’s bank account.

From saying he didn’t know Low, to insisting that no money had been lost from 1MDB funds to being clueless about US$681 million found in his personal bank accounts, to claiming he had been scammed by partner-in-crime Low, Najib has been scraping the bottom of the barrel for excuses to escape prison. He is now serving 12 years in jail involving RM42 million stolen from SRC International Sdn Bhd (a subsidiary of 1MDB).

Amazingly though, Najib had no problem spending the dubious money banked to his private accounts despite screaming that he had no idea how millions of dollars ended there. He initially claimed he didn’t know Low until a photograph of them aboard a luxury yacht emerged. He insisted no money was lost with 1MDB, but a mind-boggling RM50.75 billion of debt has been established.

Najib’s lies were finally exposed when Goldman Sachs agreed to settle with Malaysia over its involvement in the arrangement of three bonds for 1MDB. The settlement included a cash payment of US$2.5 billion (RM10.6 billion) and a guarantee of a full recovery value of at least US$1.4 billion (RM5.9 billion) in assets that are traceable to the diverted proceeds from three bond transactions.

The settlement was the best proof that money had indeed been stolen by the previous Najib administration. In the same breath, the settlement also proves that contrary to Najib’s years of lies that no money was missing from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad funds, at least US$4.5 billion (RM20.65 billion) had been siphoned, plundered and misappropriated.

Even though PM Anwar refused to link Beijing’s involvement in the scandal, China has strategic and economic reasons to protect Low. For example, Melaka Gateway was one of Najib’s many asset sales to China in order to cover 1MDB debts. Najib also sold national strategic assets such as power plants, lands like Bandar Malaysia and projects like ECRL to China in exchange for kickbacks.

Hence, it was not a surprise when fugitive Low managed to escape at the very last minute just as authorities reached Hong Kong to apprehend him – thanks to a tip-off from corrupted government insiders still loyal to Najib and China’s reluctance to help. Crucially, Beijing was hedging Low against the possibility of Najib’s return as prime minister again.

In June 2018, after Najib lost power in the general election, Low’s Malaysian passport was cancelled by the new Pakatan Harapan government. But it didn’t affect the fugitive, who possessed dozens of other passports, including one issued by the St Kitts and Nevis government. Cash-rich Low could buy or bribe his way in and out and move to another country using genuine or fake documentation.

However, post-November 2022 General Election, Beijing was increasingly convinced that not only incarcerated Najib Razak would spend most of his time in jail, but the once powerful Barisan Nasional coalition would not be able to form the government on its own. The political landscape has changed and it’s useless to continue protecting Low and his gang members.

Get real, there’s a reason why none of the 195 Interpol state members can confirm Low’s whereabouts. If he’s not in the US and Russia, he’s under China’s protection. In fact, Singapore said an arrest warrant and an Interpol red notice against Low have been in force since 2016. On top of Hong Kong, Malaysia had also applied for an Interpol red notice to seek assistance from the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, India, Myanmar and China.

Extraditing Low could improve bilateral ties with Malaysia, as well as erase the perception that China was protecting the fugitive in an attempted cover-up of the 1MDB scandal. The burning question is whether Loo was acting on her own when she decided to surrender, or was it done with Low’s knowledge and Beijing’s blessing to test the water.

The young lawyer might implicate her former boss Low, who in turn may turn star witness to implicate Najib. But chances are high that both will take turns nailing the former premier’s balls to the wall. At the same time, it would solve the political problem faced by the unity government, pressured by Najib loyalists to seek a royal pardon to free the disgraced crook.

In reality, neither PM Anwar nor Deputy PM Zahid Hamidi, the president of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), want to see Najib walk away a free man. Najib will be a political liability and threat to them if he is pardoned, allowing him to contest and return as prime minister and UMNO president. But Najib will be game-over if Loo testified against him.

More importantly, Najib and Low have become billionaires, whilst Loo got only US$16 million. As Low’s former general counsel, she played a key role in signing dubious documentation to facilitate the theft of 1MDB, not to mention attending critical meetings. Therefore, she has great bargaining power due to her insider knowledge of the scandal.

Low might want to see how the authorities treat Loo before making his next move to also negotiate and surrender. Beijing has to make sure Low won’t divulge damaging information that could tarnish its reputation. And the only way to do that is to strike win-win deals for Loo and Low. But you can bet your last dollar that Low has more privileged and juicy information about Najib. – Finance Twitter