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A man called Jho Low

Hamid (left) and the fugitive he has so far failed to bring home.

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Written by Aziz Hassan

February 21, 2020.

Recollections & Reflections

HE’S been out of sight of Malaysians since about five years ago but for all the things most believe he masterminded, for the most part 38-year-old Penang-born Low Taek Jho has never been out of mind.

The adjournment in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad trial of former prime minister Najib Razak means that at least for now little or nothing is being said about Low, popularly known as Jho Low, only for national police chief Hamid Bador to thrust the fugitive businessman back into the news just days ago.

After failing to fulfil his pledge last year that he would bring home Low by the end of the year, Hamid recently told the people that Low was known from intelligence sources to be moving around in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province, the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak. Hamid even cheekily suggested that if he had the virus, Low should consider returning to Malaysia where treatment for the infection has been good.

Honestly not many could see the significance of that revelation on Low’s whereabouts or his past movements because all that Malaysians are interested in is to have the flamboyant party-goer brought home to face trial himself in what in most people’s minds is the world’s worst financial scandal – and that is regardless of the eventual outcome of the Najib trial.

After he could not bring home Low, Hamid was to say that the country he was believed to be hiding in simply refused to cooperate. China doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Malaysia but has a mutual legal assistance understanding. Another country Low was reportedly sighted was Taiwan, with which Malaysia also does not have an extradition treaty.

Unfortunately both times the statements became a subject of ridicule, especially when it became clear that Malaysia was not going to succeed in bringing Low home. Someone in authority should advise Hamid not to say too much on this issue lest people start to lose faith in his authority.

The limited attempts to bring Low home with Interpol’s help have had no effect

Low gained notoriety after he got messed up with 1MDB and was wanted by countries like Singapore, the United States, Switzerland and Malaysia but despite being sought also by a few other countries, only Singapore and Malaysian are known to have tried via Interpol.  Singapore tried in 2016 to ask Hong Kong to pick him up but was turned down. Malaysia too had done the same with Interpol and will give it another try. But the fact is the Interpol red alert is non-binding. Thus whether or not Low gets arrested depends entirely on the goodwill of the police in the country he is residing but with the money he has, the world knows that even the worst of hardened criminals can buy their way to freedom or hire the best lawyers money can buy to delay an extradition, if not to get it out of the way completely.

In early January Interpol also issued a red alert to Lebanon to arrest former Nissan and Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn after he fled Japan where he was awaiting trial. Unlike Low who issues statements usually through his lawyers without appearing in public since being “on the hunt”, Ghosn had no qualms and appeared at a few press conferences. At the moment it doesn’t look likely that he will be extradited to Japan.

None of us can tell how much the Low family is worth but poor Jho Low’s father was not

With money from his parents, Low went to Harrow, a prestigious and expensive public school in England, where he got to know other aristocratic kids from the Middle-east and Brunei and this networking with Arab princes was to continue when Low did a post-graduate programme at the Wharton Business School.

Apart from the deals he is alleged to have done using money siphoned from 1MDB, before he reached the age of 30 Low was already known to strike out multi-million deals through his own outfit Jynwel Capital. His family business was started by paternal grandfather Low Meng Tak and continued by his father Low Hock Peng. Although some news reports disputed his family’s worth, the fact is Hock Peng was a known name in Malaysian corporate circles, especially in his base of Penang.

Najib’s lead counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah once said during the trial that the failure of the authorities to being back Low was disadvantageous and unfair to the defence. Maybe so but there is also the likelihood that whatever Low has to say as a witness may make Najib’s defence worse.

But to Malaysians not directly affected or implicated by the 1MDB saga, having Low home to give his version of events is high on their wishlist because that should bring closure to a case that has put the country in the news for all the wrong reasons.  

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About the author

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Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.