Jho Low, Alleged Ringleader in 1MDB Scandal, Sought Deal With Malaysia but Was Rejected

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Jho Low, Alleged Ringleader in 1MDB Scandal, Sought Deal With Malaysia but Was Rejected – WSJ

Prime Minister Mahathir turned down Mr. Low’s offer to drop his claim to more than a billion dollars in assets in exchange for immunity

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—Jho Low, the alleged mastermind of one of the world’s largest purported frauds, has reached out to authorities in Malaysia, offering to drop his claim to more than a billion dollars in assets in return for immunity from criminal prosecution, according to people familiar with the offer.

Prime Minister

Mahathir Mohamad

rejected the offer, which was communicated via an intermediary, the people said. Mr. Low, who the U.S. Justice Department alleges oversaw a scheme to steal $4.5 billion from a Malaysian state fund between 2009 and 2015, is living in Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China, say people with knowledge of his movements.

Malaysia doesn’t have an extradition treaty with China, but has been using backchannel communications with Beijing to seek Mr. Low’s return to Malaysia, where last week authorities issued a warrant for his arrest, one of those people say.

Attempts to reach Mr. Low, who has denied wrongdoing, weren’t successful. His lawyer didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Low has been fighting a long campaign against mounting legal problems, which began in July 2016 when the Justice Department filed civil lawsuits seeking to seize assets allegedly purchased with money stolen from the investment fund, which is called 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB.

The lawsuits alleged Mr. Low was the ringleader, using the stolen funds to buy mansions, a yacht and to set up a Hollywood production company. His lawyers have sought to stop U.S. authorities from taking those assets. In August 2017, the Justice Department asked the judge in California hearing the case to suspend the civil lawsuits to allow U.S. prosecutors to focus on building a criminal case. The judge agreed to put the civil suits on hold.

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Gambling enclave where he hosted a party including Nicole Sherzinger in February 2018.

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Hong Kong

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Macau

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Seen about a year ago at the St. Regis apartments in the Thai capital.

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THAILAND

Bangkok

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His boat, Equanimity, has spent most of past two years at a mooring here, but was seized by authorities in Bali, Indonesia, recently.

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Phuket

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Low at one point in 2016 was living at the luxury Peninsula Hotel apartments in China’s financial capital.

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china

Financial center where his company, Jynwel, is based; intermittent sightings last couple of years.

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Shanghai

1

Gambling enclave where he hosted a party including Nicole Sherzinger in February 2018.

3

Hong Kong

2

Macau

3

THAILAND

Seen about a year ago at the St. Regis apartments in the Thai capital.

4

Bangkok

4

Phuket

5

His boat, Equanimity, has spent most of past two years at a mooring here, but was seized by authorities in Bali, Indonesia, recently.

5

Low at one point in 2016 was living in an apartment at the luxury Peninsula Hotel apartments in China’s financial capital.

1

china

Financial center where his company, Jynwel, is based; intermittent sightings last couple of years.

2

Shanghai

1

Gambling enclave where he hosted a party including Nicole Sherzinger in February 2018.

3

Hong Kong

2

Macau

3

Seen about a year ago at the St. Regis apartments in the Thai capital.

4

THAILAND

Bangkok

4

His boat, Equanimity, has spent most of past two years at a mooring here, but was seized by authorities in Bali, Indonesia, recently.

5

Phuket

5

china

Shanghai

1

Hong Kong

2

Macau

3

THAILAND

Bangkok

4

Phuket

5

Low at one point in 2016 was living in an apartment at the luxury Peninsula Hotel apartments in China’s financial capital.

1

Financial center where his company, Jynwel, is based; intermittent sightings last couple of years.

2

Gambling enclave where he hosted a party including Nicole Sherzinger in February 2018.

3

Seen about a year ago at the St. Regis apartments in the Thai capital.

4

His boat, Equanimity, has spent most of past two years at a mooring here, but was seized by authorities in Bali, Indonesia, recently.

5

Mr. Low told associates earlier this year he felt safe because

Najib Razak,

then Malaysia’s prime minister and an associate of Mr. Low, was protecting him, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Mr. Najib set up 1MDB in 2009 and received hundreds of millions of dollars from the fund, the U.S. lawsuits said. Attempts to reach Mr. Najib for comment weren’t successful. He has denied wrongdoing. The previous attorney general cleared Mr. Najib of wrongdoing.

In May, Mr. Najib lost power in an unexpected election defeat. Mr. Mahathir’s government is now investigating Mr. Najib in connection with the case and has banned him from leaving the country. After years of refusing to cooperate with investigations under way in the U.S., Switzerland, Singapore and Luxembourg, Malaysian authorities are also now sharing information.

The election defeat was a blow to Mr. Low, who reached out in recent days to Mr. Mahathir’s office with the offer to stop fighting for control of assets in return for immunity from prosecution, the sources said. If a court allows the Justice Department to seize the assets, it has vowed to return them to Malaysia.

In an interview earlier on Thursday, Mr. Mahathir said that it would be legally difficult to absolve Mr. Low of responsibility for the 1MDB scandal in return for his cooperation in tracking down where the money went.

“I’m quite sure the kind of incentive he would readily accept is that he would not be prosecuted,” Mr. Mahathir said. “But we can’t do that. It’s against the law. The law does not provide for what the American law provides, plea bargaining and all that.”

Mr. Mahathir said the investigation into what happened at 1MDB is gaining traction. Both Mr. Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, have been questioned over alleged embezzlement of funds from a former 1MDB unit. Special investigation teams, including members from the country’s anticorruption commission, are leading the probe.

In recent weeks, police have seized documents, jewelry and luxury handbags from properties linked to the couple, including the equivalent of $28 million in 26 different currencies.

The ultimate goal, Mr. Mahathir said, is for prosecutors to charge Mr. Najib if there is enough evidence to warrant it, but the process will take time. “Until they find concrete evidence that will stand up in a court of law, they won’t be able to do anything,” Mr. Mahathir said.

Malaysia’s Finance Minister

Lim Guan Eng,

meanwhile, said in a separate interview that he was hopeful the full extent of the problems at 1MDB would soon be known. The fund’s debt climbed at one point to over $13 billion, although asset sales have brought it below $10 billion.

“We were lucky we discovered this while we did,” Mr. Lim said. “We hope to know everything in the next couple of weeks.”

Write to Bradley Hope at [email protected], James Hookway at [email protected] and Tom Wright at [email protected]



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