Amid reports that fugitive Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho had got asylum in the United Arab Emirates, new reports have emerged saying the con artist has obtained a Cyprus passport. Jho Low, wanted in Malaysia over the multi-billion dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, got the Cypriot passport with the help of a global passport and citizenship broker Greek-language newspaper Politis said.
Authorities in the middle east nation had debunked the reports of asylum following claims from the spokesman of the Wanted financier. There have been reports that Jho Low has been in the Middle East and shuttling between countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab emirates.
Who is Joh Low?
Authorities in Malaysia, Singapore and the US are looking for him in connection with the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), scandal. The huge financial scandal involved the theft of billions of dollars from 1MDB, the investment fund created by the Malaysian government in 2009. Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak himself came under the scanner after reports emerged that millions of dollars from the state funds might have been diverted into his personal bank accounts. The payments were made from one of several private bank accounts owned by Najib.
It is believed that shady businessman Joh Low was the ring leader of the multi-billion dollar theft. His luck ran out when the government of Najb was overthrown in the elections and former prime minister Mahathir Mohammad returned from retirement to grab power. Former prime minister Najib Razak, who is facing investigation currently, was a close friend of Low. Prosecutors in Malaysia and the US believe that Low diverted at least a billion dollar to his accounts and used the money to buy ostentatious properties around the world.
Low, who is written about as a baby-faced playboy, denied being involved in any corruption though he is the leading con artist behind the disappearance of billions of dollars of public money, according to the Malaysian investigators. "I feel I'm a victim of the crossfire of Malaysian politics, which is getting more polarised. I'm a target," Low had in an interview with the South China Morning Post in 2015.
Deal with the US
Last week, it was reported that Low agreed to forfeit high-end real estate and other assets in the US. The assets included his mansions in Beverly Hills, New York and London along with other businesses and high-end possessions such as a luxury yacht, whose collective worth amounted to approximately $700m, the US Justice Department said.
The US prosecutors said the nation cannot be used as a haven for money pilfered in other countries. The deal the US forced on Low will help Malaysia recover some of the money lost in the 1MDB scandal. The Us has slapped as many as 30 forfeiture lawsuits against Low, under which the runway tycoon will have to give up assets including real estate, investments, art and jewelry worth about US$1.7billion in total.
Under the deal, Low is also giving up the real estate and other assets acquired by his lingerie business in London. This includes the office he bought for £42mil in 2014 and a penthouse and apartment he bought 2010 in the upscale Mayfair neighbourhood. All these assets were acquired using money stolen from 1MDB.
Playboy lifestyle and high-flying Hollywood friends
The Malaysian fugitive financier is known for his playboy lifestyle and close friendship with Hollywood stars. It was reported that he once bought 23 bottles of champagne for actress Lindsay Lohan in a New York bar on her 23rd birthday. He once famously flew eight hostesses from a New York bar to a party in Kuala Lumpur.
Low has also boasted that he was responsible for getting Leonardo DiCaprio the lead role in 'The Wolf of Wall Street.' The interlinks with the movie, Low and the slush money from 1MDB are all clear. Red Granite Pictures, which produced 'The Wolf of Wall Street', was co-founded by Riza Aziz, a stepson of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, who is now facing investigation in the 1MDB scandal. It was reported earlier that Red Granite Pictures agreed to pay US$60mil to settle claims that it financed "The Wolf of Wall Street" using 1MDB money.
In the US, Joh Low was reportedly living in a US$100,000-per-month apartment, rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty in the Hollywood. The 37-year-old reportedly slipped out of Hong Kong to reach Macau well before the Malaysian and Singaporean authorities could trace him down. Besides Asian cities, Loh owned homes in New York and Los Angeles. While Malaysia held the crucial elections that finally ended the reign of Najib Razak, Loh was ensconced in Thailand, watching the results and planning the next move. He had reportedly arrived in sailing around in a luxury yacht.