Scores of emails relating to the business relationship between Najib’s fixer Jho Low and his key Middle Eastern contact, the US Ambassador Sheikh Yousef Otaiba, have confirmed a web of power-broking and kickbacks designed to relieve Malaysia of its public money.
The emails, released by a group named Global Leaks, show that the system was sanctioned from the top in KL and that Jho Low’s contacts were getting handsomely paid for facilitating deals. Sheikh Otaba himself received huge sums into his private companies from 1MDB, reported to have total $66 million, in return for assisting Jho Low with introductions and investments.
Email Trails Start in 2007
According to the data, Jho Low’s contacts with Sheikh Yousef Al Otaiba (whose father was Abu Dhabi’s first Oil Minister) began in 2007 as he sought to engage Middle East investors in Malaysian Government-backed projects such as the Iskandar Development Region (IDR) and later in Sarawak’s UBG (described as “The holding company owned by the Minister of Sarawak and Sons”).
The email flow between Jho Low, Sheikh Otaiba and his colleague Shaher Awartani, partner in the company Silver Coast Construction & Boring, begin when Shaher first contacted Otaiba on 18th June 2007 asking:
“Would you be able to meet with this guy?? Please advise”
Shaher was responding to a claim from Jho Low that he had secured, thanks to his apparent influence with the then Prime Minister Ahmad Badawi, a preferential opportunity for the Abu Dhabi group Aldar Properties to bid for the role of ‘Master Developer’ for land held by Malaysia’s Khazanah wealth fund in the Iskandar Development Region.
Otaiba who knew both the Chairman of Aldar, Ahmed Al Sayegh, and the CEO, Ronald Barrott, was plainly in a position to help swing the deal. He was also close to Abu Dhabi’s sovereign fund Mubadala’s boss, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, a vital potential investor – the emails imply that Jho was plainly making those connections worth his while:
By September, when Jho was suggesting his company Wynton set up an office in Abu Dhabi, Shaher wrote to Otaiba “that would certainly tie up nicely all our business/financial deals with Jho nicely “
The early emails show how Jho informed his prospective collaborators that he had the right contacts in Malaysia to ensure that Aldar could get preferential treatment from Khazanah regarding the Iskandar bid, thanks to his inside track. Political considerations and Aldar’s perceived closeness to the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund Mubadala were the important issue, normal tendering to one side. The decision was not really up to Khazanah, since the politicians in charge wanted Aldar, Jho implied in an email dated 12th June 2007:
“It’s important to make clear that Khazanah is a separately managed investment arm of the Government of Malaysia. Having said that, the key target partners are cleared at our board level, which is chaired by the Prime Minister of Malaysia”
Jho later described the Executive Director of Khazanah, Ganen, as “a very easy-going chap” ready to “casually meet” wherever suited – his email trail made clear who was really deciding matters:
“10th July 2007 – Just spoke to Khazanha, they are suggesting that they can also fly to anywhere in Europe or the USA to meet with the CEO and/or Chairman [of Aldar] to kick-start things since its urgent and the PM wants is[it] done…..The PM of Malaysia would like an agreement or at least a simple binding MOU signed by 29th August 2007 (which does not give us much time)”.
The hurried deal to keep the PM happy (at that time Ahmad Badawi) matched the style and tactics that the youthful fixer would later adopt on behalf of Najib Razak over the 1MDB deal with PetroSaudi. Indeed, Najib was clearly already closely involved with the Iskandar project according to another email 3rd July 2007 from Shaher to Otaiba as Jho pressured to close the deal:
“The Khazana CEO is jumping on Jho and Jho is jumping on me. They have to jointly brief their DPM [Najib] tomorrow and have nothing to tell him… any suggestions??”
There was another strange aspect to Jho Low’s offer to the Abu Dhabi consortium, which was also to manifested in his later ‘Government to Government’ ‘strategic investment’ deals involving the Middle East. Jho and his Malaysian political contacts seemed less bothered about getting cash injections and share of risk from these investors (into a property valued at $8 billion) than the appearance of a politically significant joint venture and Middle East investment. As Jho Low had written to ‘Yousef and Shaher’ June 17th:
“Khazanah want to appoint ALDAR as the master-developer for Node-1. They will fully underwrite together with their investors the end-product risk, i.e. ALDAR just needs to plan and build, and bears no risk in selling… ALDAR will also be given the opportunity jointly with Mubadala and other AD investors to co-invest (but I wish to stress that Khazanah has told me that their objective is to leverage on the ALDAR brand name and G to G relations, and funding/investment from AD is not key/required).[bold added]
The offer is remeniscent of the later 2013 ‘1MDB Strategic Partnership’ with Abu Dhabi, where again the Arab state put up zero cash, whilst the Malaysia Prime Minister Najib raised billions of dollars, which he then stole.
Sources say that Otaiba and Shaher were being rewarded by Jho Low for making the introductions and encouraging investors like Mubadala to get involved. By 2008 they were linked into a second such ‘investment’ into Sarawak’s UBG, which was soon bought over, thanks to public money which Jho Low diverted out of 1MDB.
Shaher referred to a further engagement with Jho in June 2008 (involving the Malaysian Building Society, MBSB), as “a piece of business similar to the previous transaction”
According to the emails, the arrangement continued to develop when Jho Low later ploughed stolen 1MDB money into the Helmsley Hotel purchase in New York – part of a joint investment with Mubadala. Emails show that Shaher and Otaiba were expecting to both get cash pay outs, apparently for facilitating that deal…. although it was less than they were anticipating, because Mubadla had only in the end put in $150 million instead of an expected $250 million.
Otaiba had also recommended Jho Low/Mubadala as a buyer to the sellers of the Hermitage Hotel in Beverley Hills. Tom Barrack, CEO of Colony Capital, had known Otaiba’s father. It appears to have done the trick:
Later, when it came to 1MDB’s desperate bail out in 2014, where the fund had to raise a billion dollars to service debts, Jho can be seen emailing his two collaborators once more (using his Eric Tan email address) providing them with pro-forma letters for to send on to lenders in Abu Dhabi, urging them to invest in the massive loan. Otaiba duly sent on the pre-prepared letters to Abu Dhabi banks in his name:
Jho Low, as we now know (thanks to the DOJ investigations in the United States) splashed some $140 million from that urgent loan to complete the purchase of his massive super-yacht, Equanimity – after which he immediately treated his girlfriend Miranda Ker to a wow factor holiday on board and presented her with personalised diamonds (also from the stolen money, which she has now returned).
What is clear from all these emails is that even before Najib Razak moved from Deputy Prime Minister to Prime Minister, Jho Low was operating as an informal, behind the scenes fixer in deals on behalf of senior figures in Malaysia. He reportedly used these deals to make huge sums of money. So, Malaysians are entitled to ask who else was making insider money out of this wheeler dealing?
Included in the correspondence on the PPB deal involving UBG in Sarawak, for example, was Najib’s brother, Nizam Razak, described as a “partner in the PPB deal”.
Re-Branding Jho As The Arabs Start to Panic
At the start, it may have seemed a win-win arrangement for the young collaborators. Jho Low was employing his connections in Malaysia and Otaiba in the Middle East to create deals backed by Malaysian public money. However, as early as 2010 it becomes clear that the Abu Dhabi side were developing reasons to be wary of Low.
The first problem came when Low dropped Otaiba’s name in an interview with The Star newspaper, which had picked up on his super-ostentatious behaviour in St Tropez and elsewhere. The Star wanted to know how come Jho was suddenly so flush and Jho explained it was because of his good contacts in the Middle East, like Otaiba.
A friend got in touch with Otaiba to warn that the guy who was spending millions a night on Crystal and performing for the gossip columns was refering to him publicly:
“Hope all is well” Jho wrote on 7th May 2010 in an email entitled URGENT: Letter of Recommendation for Low Taek Jho, “I have started the process of setting up an account in Goldman Sachs Swiss to receive these funds. They required me to obtain two letters of reference from “important individuals”. Would appreciate if you could kindly assist me on an urgent basis with respect to the attached reference letter?”
Shaher advised Otaiba that this was a favour to avoid:
“If there were serious question marks, then most banks would not be dealing with him [Jho Low]. Having said that, he did mention to me that banks are starting to question slightly his source of funds as the numbers are in the 100s of millions already!…. just invent an excuse
Shaher told Otiaba, before he confirmed what Sarawak Report had already noted at the time, which was that Jho Low and his family had started on a re-branding exercise in order to try and pretend their astonishing new wealth came from previous generations of successful business, rather than government related thefts:
“His boss is having him join several prominent advisory boards and have hired a PR agency to recreate and re brand “Jho Low”, so as to legitimise him as a credible and transparent business man. If you think you can get out of this without damaging the relationship then I think you should”
Shaher informed Otaiba.
‘Third Generation Billionaire’
After 2010 Jho went from telling newspapers that he was just a “concierge” from a relatively modest family background, organising parties for his rich Middle Eastern pals, to claiming he was descended from a wealthy family background and posturing as a ‘philanthropist’. The family home in Penang still tells a different story:
The Lows launched a new foundation, allegedly based on long-term family wealth, established by an “industrialist” grandfather and then the business acumen of Jho’s dad, Larry Low, a former executive at the listed Malaysian company MWE. Although MWE was presented as an enterprise that Larry had founded and largely owned, he is not named amongst the MWE’s top shareholders and is no longer a Director.
What is now apparent is that the Penang businessman (now believed to be sheltering in Thailand) has been deeply involved in his youthful offspring’s networking and money-making gambits – not third generation billionaires, but as a family business.
Brother Szen Low worked together with Jho at Jynwell Capital and even his sister, Low May Lin, now features in DOJ court documents as the recipient of an email sent after he cut the deal with PetroSaudi “I think I hit a gold mine” he told her and his parents. May Lin is a corporate lawyer with expertise in off-shore incorporations, having worked for the specialists Maples & Calder.
By late 2015, when the heat was on, Jho Low made a fan-fare of his philanthropy. Writing to his powerful former partners in Abu Dhabi Jho talked up the ‘Third Generation Family Foundation”. He boasted that through the UN he was supporting journalists at The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, to cover sustainable development and conservation issues:
However, by 2015 Jho Low’s email exchanges with his Arab friends appear one way and they reveal an increasingly desperate note, as his partners went quiet.
In March, just after Sarawak Report broke the PetroSaudi story, Jho wrote to Otaiba:
“I trust all is well. As mentioned at our last meeting, we expected these few months to be filled with noise, innuendo and mis-information from certain political quarters. We are not concerned about our e-mails, as the purported e-mail leak had originated from the Saudis… which was then partially fabricated for political spin.
We are of course pro-actively engaging proper first tier media to ensure accurate reporting, as we have always been with transparency.
Please find attached and below the statement which confirms that all accounts have been audited by Deloitte and all in order, and these fake allegations made are completely untrue. You may be also pleased to know that the Prime Minister received a unanimous vote of confidence today from his Cabinet on his handling of the economy”….
There is no evidence Jho received an answer, although Otaiba’s bankers wrote April 28th 2015 to say they had met Jho, who had told him that he was getting all his money out of BSI bank and advised Otaiba to do the same “BSI is getting messy” . The banker also said he had heard that 1MDB “assets were lost in translation… the asset/liability picture is not matching the monies/deposits transferred from 1MDB”.
Jho Felt Compelled to Buy a Bank
The banker Tobias Pfister, then told Otaiba that Jho now “felt compelled to buy a bank as a parking spot for his funds, as well as his friends and family”. Jho was looking at Amicorp Barbados which was 70% up for sale for $15 million. However,, Phister advised Otaiba not to get involved in buying a bank since “it is one of the most regulated industries”. There is no indication Otaiba and Shaher were speaking directly to Jho Low by this stage… Jho had sent a message to say “no calls or emails” were advised:
In June Jho sent a trimphant email following the arrest in Thailand of whistleblower Xavier Justo, which had been orchestrated with the assistance of his own contacts in Bangkok.
“Dear Friends….. Arrests have been made now in [sic] the first individual in a series of individuals that have committed the international criminal offence of blackmail and systemic fraud. Forensics experts have also confirmed that the purported e-mail proof has been fraudulent and tempered [sic] with. Meida article doesn’t report all, bu politicians were also potentially targets of an international blackmail and systemic fraud scheme in addition to companies…”
Low then added the New Straits Times article he and his collaborators had helped to organise discrediting Xavier Justo. Otaiba made no response.
In September 2015, Jho was still plainly ‘pushing back’ on behalf of Najib still, although in hiding. The story had come out in the Wall Street Journal and The Edge that 1MDB money had gone missing after being sent to a fake off-shore entity. Jho Low begged his Abu Dhabi friends to work with “extremely concerned” Najib and agree a common strategy of “no comment”. So much for transparency:
“PMO and 1MDB both won’t respond. Malaysian side is extremely concerned and wants to ensure strategy to [sic] consistent and coordinated…
Both PM and “common friend” have previously spoken to Suhail [new Aabar CEO] re this and subsequently this was resolved under Suhail with the new term sheet signed between MOF, 1MDB, IPIC and Aabar in which USD1b was paid by IPIC.
MOF will ensure IPIC is fully paid or provide assets acceptable to IPIC.
PM has taken the approach that we shouldn’t talk abt re Aabar previous decisions made or else it will be unnecessary damage control for all parties.”
Malaysia Faces Sovereign Default
Jho Low’s promise that the money would be repaid has of course proved worthless. Abu Dhabi did not receive its billion back a year later in 2016 and after taking 1MDB to court it was ruled that Malaysia should pay $602 million by July 31st this year, plus penalties.
That ruling was not met. A five working day “cure period” was allowed under the agreement before penalties kicked in – a deadline that expired midday New York time Monday. Now 1MDB/Najib have begged IPIC to allow them till the end of the month, since they still say they ‘only have half the money’ – IPIC have demanded that half, which is $300 million, to be paid by Friday.
The last emails between Shaher and Otaiba in May 2017 indicate that the Emiratis are now aware that Jho Low has been in discussions with the DOJ, presenting an even bigger headache for the decision-makers in KL.