Many might have been curious as to why a short, podgy businessman with glasses was always in the company of dazzling celebrities at parties. Yet the Malaysian socialite, recognized as Jho Low, had a knack for forming elite connections.
The 41-year-old, a graduate of Harrow in England, showered celebrities with lavish gifts. For Australian model Miranda Kerr, he spent £6million on jewels and a crystal piano.
He gave Kim Kardashian his £200,000 casino winnings, and hired Britney Spears for £800,000 to feature in his lavish birthday celebration.
Stories circulate of Low spending £1.5million on champagne during a night in St Tropez and chartering flights for stars between New Year’s celebrations in Australia and Las Vegas.
However, his most notable connection was with Leonardo DiCaprio. Low’s company sponsored DiCaprio’s 2013 film “The Wolf Of Wall Street”, and he also acquired a mansion worth £30million in Hollywood near the actor.
DiCaprio received a £2.5million Picasso artwork from Low and invitations to several extravagant events.
Yet, Low’s expenditures weren’t from his own pocket; they were the Malaysian public’s funds. His deceit is now exposed in an upcoming documentary titled “Man On The Run”, premiering next week.
The truth about Low’s corrupt actions was uncovered after persistent efforts by UK journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown and the American FBI. It’s estimated his actions led to losses upwards of £3.5 billion, contributing to Malaysia’s debt.
Nicknamed the Asian version of the Great Gatsby due to his lavish events, Low is rumored to be in China, evading the law. Clare speculates he may remain elusive.
Low’s deceits have led to the convictions of rapper Pras Michel, Malaysia’s former PM, and two Goldman Sachs employees. But Low’s ascent was as striking as his descent.
Low Taek Jho, commonly known as Jho Low, hailed from affluence and was educated in England from 1988.
There, he connected with Riza Aziz, the stepson of the previous Malaysian PM Najib Razak. In 2009, this connection facilitated the creation of a development fund named 1MDB with Razak.
The initiative was meant to invigorate Malaysia’s economy for its populace, but it was primarily misused by Low and associates.
His initial spotlight moment was when the New York Post reported about him gifting 23 Cristal champagne bottles to Lindsay Lohan on her 23rd birthday.
Subsequent years saw Paris Hilton on his yacht and celebrities like Lady Gaga, Jay-Z, and Beyonce attending his events.
FBI documents disclosed Low gifting Kim Kardashian £83,000 for fireworks. His 30th birthday in Las Vegas in 2012 had guests like Kanye West.
In another year, Low was seen with Alicia Keys at a New York charity event. Yet, Clare’s curiosity was primarily around his involvement in “The Wolf Of Wall Street”.
Low and Aziz co-founded Red Granite Pictures, which produced the movie. Clare believed the funding might be from the debt-laden 1MDB fund.
She remembers, “I was waging a Twitter war with Leonardo DiCaprio from the launch of the movie, saying, ‘You better know there is suspicion about the money behind your movie’.”
Contrarily, after the movie’s release, Clare faced legal threats, while DiCaprio publicly thanked Low during his Golden Globe acceptance in 2014.
Persisting in her expose on the 1MDB scandal through “The Sarawak Report”, Clare attracted powerful adversaries.
Two individuals, former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and whistle-blower Xavier Justo, claim they faced imprisonment for unveiling Low’s illicit activities.
US agents sued in 2016, aiming to recover billions taken from 1MDB. They found colossal amounts spent on artwork, a yacht, and diamonds.
DiCaprio returned the Picasso and a Basquiat painting he received from Red Granite Pictures. Meanwhile, Kerr returned her gifts, though Clare states, “She also had a room made around a crystal piano, but it was too big to get it out of the room, so they said keep it”.
There’s no implication that DiCaprio or other celebrities were complicit in Low’s actions.
Low’s affluence was, seemingly, a tool to form global partnerships, even trying to meddle in US politics.
His attempts became evident when Fugees’ Michel was proven guilty of channeling funds to Obama’s 2012 campaign and later attempting to influence Trump on Low’s behalf.
DiCaprio, once close to Michel, testified during the trial. Najib Razak, now imprisoned for 12 years due to the 1MDB scandal, blames Low for his downfall.
Goldman Sachs’ Roger Ng is incarcerated in New York, while Tim Leissner awaits sentencing. Both were charged with money laundering.
In 2020, Goldman Sachs paid a hefty sum to the Malaysian government due to the 1MDB debacle. Recently, new Malaysian PM Anwar Ibrahim hinted at suing Goldman Sachs.
While the authorities from both the US and Malaysia are keen on trialing Low, his whereabouts remain uncertain.
After being tied to the Malaysian fraud, Low was seen in various locations, from Antarctica to Disneyland in Shanghai. However, his extravagant days seem to be past him.