One of the world’s biggest yachts has quietly slipped into Hong Kong, its visit shrouded in secrecy.
The 91.5 metre Equanimity – the 51st largest yacht in the world, according to Boat International magazine – has been linked to Jho Low, the Malaysian financier at the centre of the 1MDB scandal that has rocked the country. There have been speculation, notably in the newsletter Sarawak Report, that the yacht is to be sold. But the purpose of its stay in Hong Kong is unclear. And no one connected to it is willing to talk.
Northrop & Johnson, which is based in Hong Kong and describes itself as a broker for superyachts, declined to comment on its involvement. A sales broker with Northrop & Johnson said the company had a confidentiality agreement with the client, adding: “The client does not want any publicity.”
The Equanimity has a crew of 28 and can accommodate 26 guests in a master suite, three VIP rooms, three doubles and two twin staterooms. It features a spa/beach club with a sauna, steam room, “experiential shows”, a plunge pool, beauty salon and gym.
It also has a 20-metre swimming pool, and is one of the few superyachts with a helipad.
It is understood that it has undergone some maintenance or repair work and has spent much of its time in Hong Kong at the Yiu Lian dockyard on Tsing Yi. But a manager at the dockyard said he was unable to discuss Equanimity since his company had also been required to sign a confidentiality agreement.
The yacht is believed to be owned by Jho Law and he is frequently cited in the yachting press as the owner. But his lawyers have denied he owns it. Even so, the yacht appears to be at his disposal and he has hosted a number of lavish parties on board with Hollywood stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio. The last of these was reportedly a birthday bash off the cost of South Korea in November 2015.
Some of Low’s accounts and those of his associates have been frozen while regulators from jurisdictions such as Singapore, the United States, Britain, and Switzerland investigate the 1MDB scandal. Low reportedly sold some artwork this year, giving rise to speculation the yacht may be sold to raise funds for Low and his associates before it becomes a target for seizure by the US authorities.
Under pressure, Malaysia on Thursday said it would take legal action against anybody involved in defrauding 1MDB. “The money – if stolen from us – must be recovered in full, and those guilty punished in accordance with our laws and those of the countries where the money was laundered,” said a minister.
The yacht has spent most of this year in New Zealand, Australia and Palau, before coming to Hong Kong.
Over the past year Low appears to have cut back on his playboy lifestyle as more details of his involvement with the scandal emerged. He has become more reclusive.
A woman who answered the phone at his Hong Kong-based company Jynwel Capital said he was not available, adding she didn’t know where he was.
He reportedly splits his time between Taiwan and Thailand. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) last month made allegations of fraud and money laundering on the part of Low and his corporate entities, among others, in a civil action brought under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative in the form of civil forfeiture complaints.
These complaints were aimed at seizing assets that were diverted from 1MDB (1 Malaysia Development Berhard), Malaysia’s sovereign strategic investment development fund. The complaint alleges that more than US$3 billion was siphoned off from 1MDB and used to acquire assets in the US. These included luxury real estate, paintings by Van Gogh and the bankrolling of the popular film The Wolf of Wall Street, produced by Rizza Aziz, the stepson of the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak.
Although the DOJ action is civil, it alleges criminal action on the part of Low and others. The complaint details how US$620 million misappropriated from 1MDB was sent to an account that belonged to “Malaysian Official 1”, a thinly veiled reference to Malaysia’s prime minister, via an account belonging to Erik Tan, an associate of Low’s. Money stolen from Malaysia’s 1MDB fund was spent on gambling, jet rentals and yachts, according to the DOJ. However, Equanimity is not included in the assets that the DOJ is seeking to forfeit.
Scenic Eclipse, the world's first six-star discovery yacht, is equipped with helicopters and a submarine
The yacht was delivered to its owner in the middle of 2014, long after funds started to be diverted from 1MDB. The yachting press values it at US$160-175 million. ■■
Howard Winn is a former columnist of the South China Morning Post