SINGAPORE – Move over, Netflix. Reality TV series have never been quite this exciting.
Welcome to: “Lies, Scandals, and More Lies”, the real-life drama series where juicy details of one the largest financial fiascos the world has ever seen is slowly unveiled.
The US Department of Justice (DoJ) last week filed its third lawsuit to seize an additional US$540 million worth of assets linked to corruption involving 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
Including two earlier civil forfeiture complaints, this brings the total assets that the US government hopes to recover to a whopping US$1.7 billion. And even that is less than half of the US$4.5 billion in funds that US authorities claim was stolen from 1MDB by high-level officials and their associates.
The story begins innocuously enough: “1MDB was ostensibly created to pursue investment and development projects for the economic benefit of Malaysia and its people, primarily relying on the issuance of various debt securities to fund these projects,” the US DoJ says in its 251-page court document.
But a more allegedly glaring plot soon unravels.
Enter the main character in this blockbuster: Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, who is better known by his more Hollywood-worthy moniker, Jho Low.
On the surface, Low is the perfect protagonist who has everything going for him.
In 2009, at the tender age of 27, Low was already an adviser on the Terengganu Investment Authority, a municipal entity which would become the government-owned 1MDB.
Low, now 35, has never held a formal position at 1MDB, and has publicly denied any involvement with 1MDB.
However, prosecutors in at least four countries — Singapore, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the US — have in their international investigations claimed that Low is right at the centre of the intriguing plot to allegedly siphon off and launder billions of dollars from 1MDB.
In a statement issued through a representative last week in response to the latest complaints by the US DoJ, Low reportedly says that the US government’s case is “completely without foundation”.
Amid the ongoing investigations, Low’s whereabouts are currently unknown.
To be sure, Low himself is relatively nondescript although he allegedly gambled for approximately seven days at the Venetian Casino after US$11 million was deposited into his account at the casino in July 2012.
To accompany his US$50 million Bombardier Global 5000 private jet, Low sank some US$260 million on a 300-foot award-winning luxury mega-yacht, the Equanimity. The titanic yacht comes with a helicopter landing pad, an on-board gymnasium, a cinema, a massage room, a sauna, a steam room, an experiential shower, and a plunge pool.
Low is also said to have thrown some of the biggest parties Las Vegas has ever seen, once spending millions on his 30th birthday party.
Low reportedly invited more than 300 guests to the mother of all parties at a giant tent erected on an empty five-acre lot along the Las Vegas strip, complete with an indoor Ferris wheel and a 24-foot bar carved from solid ice.
Britney Spears was said to have been paid US$1 million to sing him a “Happy Birthday” song, while Korean superstar Psy was rumoured to have been paid even more to perform “Gangnam Style” at the party.
The self-styled Casanova reportedly spent more than US$1 million on a lavish, romantic dinner on a private beach in Dubai with Taiwanese pop singer Elva Hsiao.
A video claiming it was “surprise engagement proposal” reportedly showed “Jho & Elva” scrawled across a massive LED board, even as two parachutists descended from the skies to present Hsiao with several pieces of jewellery.
While the gesture touched Hsiao to tears, she reportedly rejected Low’s proposal and returned the gifts. Low is said to have later issued a statement to clarify that it was a “romantic dinner, not a proposal”.
Thankfully, Low seems to have bounced back from the not-a-failed-proposal chapter.
In the latest episode, Low is alleged to have showered Australia’s Victoria’s Secret “angel” Miranda Kerr with millions of dollars of jewellery, according to the US DoJ filing last week.
Supermodel Kerr, who last month married Internet entrepreneur Evan Spiegel, received a US$1.29 million 11.72-carat heart-shaped diamond necklace from Low as a Valentine’s Day gift in 2014.
A few months later, Low gave Kerr an 18K white gold diamond jewellery set that included a necklace, a pair of earrings, a bracelet, and a ring.
The US$1.98 million matching diamond jewellery set was given to Kerr during a multi-day excursion aboard Low’s spanking new yacht in late July and early August of 2014.
To accompany the jewellery set, Low also purchased for Kerr an 11-carat pear-cut diamond set on 18K white gold earrings for US$1.05 million.
These gifts are all part of the assets allegedly purchased with stolen 1MDB funds, which the US DoJ now seeks to seize.
Victoria’s Secret model Miranda Kerr is reported to have received a US$1.98 million matching diamond jewellery set from Jho Low during a multi-day excursion aboard his 300-foot mega-yacht, The Equanimity.
And there is more jewellery that US authorities are moving to seize, it says in its latest civil lawsuit.
The US DoJ claims that nearly US$30 million of funds siphoned from 1MDB was used to buy jewellery for the wife of “Malaysian Official 1”.
These included 27 different 18-carat gold necklaces and bracelets, as well as a rare 22-carat pink diamond set in a necklace.
The US DoJ had last year accused Red Granite Pictures (a Hollywood movie production and distribution studio) of using US$100 million that was diverted from 1MDB to finance the film “The Wolf of Wall Street”, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
In this latest chapter, the US DoJ claims that two other Red Granite films — “Dumb and Dumber To” and “Daddy’s Home” — were also financed using some US$40 million of funds misappropriated from 1MDB.
Meanwhile, DiCaprio, last week started proceedings to transfer ownership of a US$3.2 million Pablo Picasso painting titled “Nature Morte au Crane de Taureau” to the US government.
The Picasso is among the items listed by the US DoJ in its filing last week.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” star Leonardo DiCaprio is reported to be regular drinking buddies with alleged 1MDB mastermind Jho Low.
DiCaprio is reported to have also returned an Oscar originally won by Marlon Brando, which was given to him as a set gift by Red Granite to thank him for his work on “The Wolf of Wall Street”.
In addition, the US DoJ is moving to seize two other pieces of artwork that DiCaprio received from Low, which were allegedly purchased with misappropriated 1MDB funds.
The first is a US$750,000 Diane Arbus photograph titled “Boy with the Toy Hand Grenade”, and the other is a US$9.2 million collage by Jean-Michel Basquiat titled “Redman One”.
‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ star Leonardo DiCaprio is reported to be regular drinking buddies with alleged 1MDB mastermind Jho Low.