Malaysia 1MDB scandal

Fugitive Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho ‘stayed in upscale Hong Kong apartments before Macau trip’, despite Interpol red notice over 1MDB corruption scandal

Wanted financier thought to have managed to slip from one city to the other last week because neither Malaysia nor Singapore formally requested his arrest

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2018, 9:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 July, 2018, 11:14pm

Fugitive Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho and his family were allowed to slip out of Hong Kong to Macau last week because neither Malaysia nor Singapore formally requested his arrest, the Post has learned.

He and his entourage were hiding in plain sight in Admiralty, on Hong Kong Island, occupying multiple rooms at the upscale Pacific Place Apartments before leaving for the casino hub, a source with knowledge of Low’s recent movements said.

And as of Saturday, 37-year-old Low – known as Jho Low – was still in Macau, the source revealed.

The baby-faced playboy – who owned homes in New York and Los Angeles, partied with some of the world’s biggest film stars and once flew eight hostesses from a New York bar to a party in Kuala Lumpur – is wanted for questioning in connection with one of the world’s biggest frauds, revolving around 1MDB, Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund.

Low has reportedly been on the move since before Malaysia’s general election in May. He waited out the result of the vote in Phuket, Thailand, where he arrived having sailed around Asia on a luxury yacht allegedly bought with stolen cash.

The yacht has been seized by police investigating the 1MDB scandal.

On Friday, the Post reported that if Low was in Macau, he could be applying for asylum. On Saturday night it was understood that the businessman and his family were still in the city, seemingly unfazed by an Interpol red notice requesting his arrest.

“Jho was in Hong Kong for a couple months,” the source said. “He was staying at an apartment in Pacific Place with his family and his entourage. They moved out of Pacific Place and travelled to Macau a few days ago, despite Low being the subject of an Interpol red notice.”

The reason Hong Kong did nothing to stop Low – despite the red notice – was because there was no formal request for his arrest from Malaysia or Singapore, it was understood.

“Hong Kong police have no obligation to arrest, even if he is on an Interpol red notice,” the source said. “The only obligation is if there is an accompanying formal request from the originating country, which there wasn’t.”

The Malaysian government, when it was led by Najib Razak, widely believed to be friends with Low, had insisted nothing was wrong with 1MDB, even as the United States’ Department of Justice found it had laundered US$4.5 billion. The new government of Mahathir Mohamed – who beat Najib in the election – earlier this week slapped corruption charges on the former leader.

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Low has always denied being involved in any corruption. But Malaysian police and anti-corruption officials consider him a key figure in the fraud and are trying to track him down.

The source said Low had rented several apartments on the 32nd, 34th and 36th floors of Pacific Place Apartments.

According to several rental websites, a one-bedroom, 1,220 sq ft flat in the building costs an average of HK$84,000 a month (US$10,700) while a three-bedroom flat of more than 2,650 sq ft goes for HK$230,000 a month.

A Post reporter visited the building on Saturday and showed a picture of Low to three receptionists. They said they did not recognise him, and one of them said: “We don’t have anyone of that name registered here.”

In an interview with the Post in 2015, Low, who had been living in Hong Kong for five years, denied the 1MDB allegations and said he would happily cooperate with Malaysian authorities.

“I feel I’m a victim of the crossfire of Malaysian politics, which is getting more polarised. I’m a target,” Low said at the time.

“Business decisions by 1MDB are ultimately decided and approved in accordance to their corporate governance framework, which is the management, board and shareholders. So why politicise and try to blame it all on me when I have no decision-making authority?”

Low has not been coy about his playboy lifestyle. He famously bought 23 bottles of champagne in a New York bar for actress Lindsay Lohan on her 23rd birthday, and lived in a US$100,000-per-month apartment on the city’s West 56th Street, alongside the likes of actor Daniel Craig and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.

Low also claimed to have been responsible for getting Leonardo DiCaprio the lead role in the blockbuster film The Wolf of Wall Street. He said in 2015 that he had introduced DiCaprio to Red Granite Pictures, the US production company co-founded by Riza Aziz, Najib’s stepson.

Malaysian authorities grilled Riza for several hours on Friday over the 1MDB scandal.

Authorities in Hong Kong and Macau had been tight-lipped over claims Low had slipped the net and was ­hiding out in the former Portuguese enclave.

A Macau security insider said it made sense that Low picked Macau as a sanctuary from possible arrest and extradition.

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“Rumours that he is or has been spending time in Macau have been circulating for more than a month now, and I have to say this makes sense because, while Malaysia has mutual legal assistance agreements with Hong Kong, they do not have these ­arrangements with Macau,” the source said.

“However, he cannot stay in Macau for more than 30 days, and if he was coming in and out, the government would have kicked him out on his third entry to the city.”

Low’s only option would be to make an asylum request with immigration authorities. Authorities in Macau have yet to respond to questions about such an application.

Additional reporting by Danny Lee