1MDB Update: Jho Low uses two passports, says US DOJ

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on June 19, 2017 - June 25, 2017.
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MALAYSIAN deal maker Low Taek Jho or Jho Low, the 36-year-old at the centre of the country’s biggest financial scandal, has a Malaysian passport as well as one from St Kitts and Nevis (see visual).

Malaysia does not allow its citizens to hold a passport from another country, so it will be interesting to see if the authorities will act against Low. It is not clear when he obtained the passport.

St Kitts is a small Caribbean nation reputed to be the most popular place to buy a passport. For as low as US$250,000, a foreigner can buy a citizenship with no requirement to live in the country.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network had in 2014 warned St Kitts that it had granted passports to foreign individuals who have abused the Citizenship-by-Investment Program for the purpose of engaging in illicit financial activity.

Last July, the DOJ filed civil suits to seize assets estimated at over US$1 billion that Low and several of his associates were accused of acquiring using money stolen from 1 Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), a troubled state-owned company set up in 2009.

These assets include properties in New York and Los Angeles, a private jet and paintings by masters like Van Gogh and Monet. 1MDB money was also said to have been used to fund the movie The Wolf of Wall Street.

Singapore has closed two private banks — BSI and Falcon — and fined United Overseas Bank (UOB), Credit Suisse, DBS and UBS over lapses in their anti-money laundering oversights that involved 1MDB fund flows. Several bankers have been jailed and/or banned from working in the finance industry after a two-year probe by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Low was the central figure in all the dealings that involved the banks and bankers, but to date, he has not faced any charges in Singapore or Malaysia.

The latest asset seizure against him by the US DOJ under the Kleptocracy Act involved three properties in London, the super yacht Equanimity, numerous pieces of jewellery and many others.

The first two London properties are a penthouse and a flat with a view of Buckingham Palace at Stratton House in Mayfair, bought for £77 million in March 2010. The DOJ alleged that the money came from Good Star Ltd, a Seychelles company controlled by Low, which in September 2009, received US$700 million illegally transferred from 1MDB.

The Malaysian auditor-general has said that 1MDB management transferred the money without the approval of its board of directors. To date, no one in Malaysia has been charged with any offences involving 1MDB.

The third asset is the Stratton Office, consisting of multiple office units, bought for £42 million in February 2014. The DOJ alleged that Low used money he illegally obtained from proceeds of a US$3.5 billion bond issued by 1MDB with the help of Goldman Sachs in March 2013. According to the DOJ documents, the Stratton Office was used by Myla, a lingerie company Low had acquired, also with funds illegally transferred from the bond proceeds.

The DOJ in its suit also alleged that Low received a US$300 million profit of unusual proportion from an investment he made with Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Co (IPIC) to buy control of US oil firm Coastal Energy for US$2.2 billion. It was alleged that the US$2.2 billion came from money illegally funnelled from 1MDB.