A bespectacled Malaysian businessman with seemingly infinite wealth and very expensive taste, Jho Low sought to be the life of every party. Not satisfied with merely schmoozing Martin Scorsese by bankrolling The Wolf of Wall Street, this is the man who bought Kim Kardashian a sports car, flew Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx to Melbourne and back by private jet to celebrate the New Year’s Eve countdown twice in one night, and reportedly paid Britney Spears $1m to burst out of a cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to him.
Fittingly, Low’s story bears all the twists and turns of a Scorsese flick, albeit one with very real villains and a raft of victims left devastated on the sidelines of the glitz. Dubbed “The Asian Great Gatsby”, Low originally used his private school education to build up a series of increasingly rich and powerful connections in finance and government – including the stepson of Najib Razak, a high-ranking member of the Malaysian government who would go on to become prime minister of the country in 2009. These would be the kinds of connections that would allow Low to convince people he was wealthier and more important than he was, even before he had the bank balance to back it up.
He soon took care of that. Between 2009 and 2014, Low and his associates allegedly embezzled an eye-watering $4.5bn from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a sovereign wealth fund established in 2008 with the stated aim of enriching the Malaysian economy. That money was directed into bank accounts all over the world, disguised as legitimate investments. For the company involved in processing some of these transactions, the vast sums of money being spent were starting to raise more than just eyebrows and Martini glasses.