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Malaysia

Jho Low’s gone, but Malaysia is still paying for his US$250m yacht Equanimity. Here’s how much

  • Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng reveals how much maintaining the financier’s lavish vessel Equanimity is costing taxpayers
  • Meanwhile, Jho Low-themed Christmas merchandise is taking Kuala Lumpur by storm
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2018, 10:29pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 November, 2018, 1:42am

Even in hiding, disgraced financier Low Taek Jho is costing the Malaysian public dearly.

His seized superyacht, the Equanimity, has cost Malaysian taxpayers RM3.5 million (US$835,000) – and counting – in maintenance costs, port services, crew and legal fees since it was seized by the government in August.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng disclosed the figure – which does not include costs incurred since October 10 – in an answer to a parliamentary question on Wednesday. He also said the government hopes to have sold the vessel “by the end of the year”.

The US$250 million yacht, which has a gym, spa, steam room and cinema, was allegedly bought with money stolen from the state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). The government now plans to auction it off to recoup some of the many billions of ringgit that went missing.

It is currently docked in Langkawi, after being moved to keep it in good condition and prevent barnacles from attaching to its hull, according to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

The High Court of Malaya ruled in October that the Equanimity belonged to the Malaysian government and 1MDB, after its registered owner failed to appear in court to claim it.

Soon after, the Admiralty Court approved the terms and conditions for the bidding process for the vessel to run from late October until November 28. Interested buyers must pay a deposit of US$1 million just to take part in the auction.

The Equanimity is one of many lavish purchases made by Low – commonly referred to as Jho Low.

Investigators claim he also bought jewellery; diamonds; paintings by Monet, Picasso and Basquiat; and luxury properties with the misappropriated funds.

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He also threw parties featuring star-studded guest lists that included Britney Spears and Jamie Foxx, among others.

Low’s current whereabouts are unknown, though Interpol has appealed for his arrest and Mahathir has suggested he believes Low is hiding in China.

Even so, he has recently been “spotted” in the upmarket suburb of Bangsar in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

Sadly for Interpol – and various other authorities who want him arrested – Low’s appearance is limited to a cartoonish likeness on a variety of Christmas-themed merchandise, including mugs, T-shirts, activity books and drinks coasters.

Sold by lifestyle and gift shop APOM (A Piece of Malaysia) Store, the items all feature a character resembling Low in a Santa hat, with slogans such as “Spend it like you stole it” and “Jho Jho Jho! Tis the season of giving … back”. There is also a dedicated “Finding Jholly” activity book – riffing off the popular puzzle books Where’s Wally – in which readers must spot Low’s likeness in a busy scene. However, in this version, rather than Wally’s red-and-black outfit, the elusive figure is dressed in black-and-white prison stripes.

Other catchy taglines include “Money Party Jholly Repeat” and “Wishing you a billion-dollar Christmas!” – a reference to the recently published bestseller documenting the 1MDB scandal, Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, by Wall Street Journal reporters Tom Wright and Bradley Hope.

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It is unclear whether Low is aware of the kitschy merchandise flying off the shelves. Apom Store’s website indicates that it has already sold out its “Spending it like I stole it” tote bags and “Jho! Jho! Jho!” Christmas greeting cards.

Low, who is accused of masterminding the 1MDB scandal and is wanted by Singapore and Malaysia, has persistently claimed innocence. Recently he posted an open letter on his website that accused unspecified jurisdictions of being “poisoned by gossip, innuendo, and unproven allegations”. In the same letter, Low complained he had been “paraded in effigy through the streets of Kuala Lumpur”. However, the financier has remained quiet on having his likeness put on T-shirts and mugs.

Kelvin Long, founder of APOM Store, said sales had been “fantastic”.

“We try to be witty and topical; and capture the sentiments of the people in a humorous, satirical or ironic light,” said Long, describing the idea as a “eureka moment”.

“Malaysians don’t like him. We as Malaysians are making fun of him ... the situation the nation is in is terrible, so hopefully we can keep our spirits up Malaysian-style and also laugh at it just a little.”