A significant twist has emerged with regard to the 1MDB saga where it was disclosed in a Singapore court that billionaire Jho Low had also used a different name in his financial dealings involving Malaysia’s troubled investment fund.
Though investigations into 1MDB transactions are being carried out in various countries, Singapore has been the swiftest, shutting down BSI Bank and Falcon Private Bank for facilitating the laundering of 1MDB-linked funds and charging former employees of these banks.
Earlier this week, the Singapore court heard that the often mentioned “Eric Tan Kim Loong” was in fact an alias for Low.
According to the Singapore case, Falcon Private Bank Singapore branch manager Jens Sturzeneggar had been in communication with the email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, but later discovered that he was actually corresponding with Low.
When the two met, the Malaysian-born billionaire revealed that he used the name Eric Tan on some occasions for “security” purposes.
Tan, whose name had cropped up repeatedly as the owner of several companies to which 1MDB funds were allegedly diverted to, had been a mystery from the onset.
Unlike Low, who is known to be a close associate of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s family, Tan did not fit into the 1MDB puzzle apart from being described as a “business associate” of the billionaire.
The Singapore case established that four Falcon Private Bank accounts were held by companies controlled by Low using the alias “Eric Tan Kim Loong” and that Sturzeneggar had tried to conceal this fact.
On Wednesday, Sturzeneggar pleaded guilty to this and five other charges and was slapped with a 28-week jail sentence and a S$128,000 fine.
Two of the Falcon accounts mentioned in the case were held by Granton Property Holdings Limited and Tanore Finance Corporation.
The latter was the origin of the US$681 million in Najib’s personal bank accounts.
Based on the revelation that the accounts were controlled by Low through an alias, there appears now to be a direct money trail link between the prime minister and Low.
Najib had maintained that the colossal sum was a donation from a member of the Saudi royal family and denied abusing public funds for personal gain.
Attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali, who cleared Najib of any wrongdoing, also claimed that US$620 million of the money was returned to the donor.
According to US Department of Justice (DOJ), which has sought to seize more than US$1 billion in assets purchased with “stolen money” from 1MDB, the specific amount – US$620,010,715 – was returned to Tanore.
Bulk of funds held by Low
The latest Singapore revelation fuels more interest in Low as it suggests that the returned money went to the billionaire as he controlled Tanore through an alias.
The DOJ had alleged that US$835 million and US$430 million were diverted into Tanore and Granton respectively from a US$3 billion bond intended for the development of 1MDB’s Tun Razak Exchange.
Apart from the US$681 million for “Malaysian Official 1”, US$137 million from the Tanore account was used to purchase artwork.
Some US$100 million of these artworks were gifted from Tan’s Tanore to Low with letters that read: “Gift of art-works… in consideration of your friendship, your charitable contribution to the world, and passion in promoting the understanding and appreciation of art-works.”
The development in Singapore raises the question as to whether Low wrote the letters and gifted the artworks to himself.
According to the DOJ investigation, Christie’s Auction House, which sold the artworks including pieces by Monet and Vincent Van Gogh, viewed Tanore and Low interchangeably even though Low made specific instruction for all communications to be directed to Tan.
Funds from the Granton account was also used to purchase artwork while US$235.5 million ended up in Low’s personal account at BSI Bank in Singapore after passing through intermediaries.
Tan is also named as the beneficial owner of Blackstone Real Estate Partners, a Standard Chartered bank account where large sums of 1MDB funds were allegedly diverted.
According to the DOJ, US$1.367 billion from two separate bonds totalling US$3.5 billion were allegedly diverted to British Virgin Islands-registered Aabar Investments PJS Limited, which subsequently wired US$1.101 billion to the Blackstone account.
Australia’s ABC News, based on bank statements, claimed at least US$120 million flowed into Najib’s personal bank accounts from the Blackstone account.
It is unclear if the Blackstone account with Standard Chartered, which was beneficially owned by Tan, was also an alias for Low, as it was in the case of accounts with Falcon Private Bank.
No Standard Chartered employee had been charged in Singapore to date but the bank was slapped with a S$5.2 million fine by the Monetary Authority of Singapore in December last year.
While Jho Low had used Tan’s name as his alias, Tan himself is believed to be an actual person, according to Sturzenegger.
Sturzenegger claimed that he knew this because he had seen Tan’s passport and curriculum vitae.
This begs the question whether Tan’s identity was abused or if he willingly allowed his name to be used.
The DOJ found that both Tan (player XXX8710) and Low (player XXX4296) were listed at Venetian Casino Resort in Las Vegas, where 1MDB-linked funds were used to pay off gambling debt.
It could be that the real Tan was gambling with Low or that Low had two casino accounts under different names.
The Singapore court case managed to shed some light on Tan but he remains shrouded in mystery despite his name appearing as the beneficiary of several companies to which 1MDB funds were allegedly diverted to.