'The Wolf of Wall Street' : Photocall At Cinema Gaumont Opera Capucines
'The Wolf of Wall Street' : Photocall At Cinema Gaumont Opera Capucines

Dark secret of mega-rich fugitive

Kylie Jenner's outrageously extravagant 22nd birthday party in Italy earlier this month was held on the 91-metre Tranquility superyacht, which features a beauty salon, sauna, gym, massage room, plunge pool and two helipads.

The luxury vessel, which cost $1.2 million for a week's hire, is also home to a secret.

It was seized last year off the coast of Bali as part of a global manhunt for a mega-rich Malaysian fugitive famous for a life of excess that puts the Kardashians to shame.

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Jho Low spent years assiduously courting A-list celebrities, partying with Paris Hilton in St Tropez, presenting $9 million worth of jewellery to Miranda Kerr and funding his friend Leonardo DiCaprio's pet project about corruption and greed, The Wolf of Wall Street.

The playboy businessman vanished after the US Justice Department accused him of masterminding a $4.5 billion scam to defraud Malaysian taxpayers - but he's still fighting to protect his name.

Jho Low is in hiding, accused of masterminding a $4.5 billion scam to defraud Malaysian taxpayers. Picture: Dimitrios Kambouris/ Getty Images
Jho Low is in hiding, accused of masterminding a $4.5 billion scam to defraud Malaysian taxpayers. Picture: Dimitrios Kambouris/ Getty Images

'THE ASIAN GATSBY'

The mysterious Mr Low became known in elite circles for extraordinary wealth, buying artworks by van Gogh and Monet and sending 23 bottles of Cristal to Lindsay Lohan's table at a Manhattan nightclub on her 23rd birthday.

At one party he held in Vegas, attended by DiCaprio, 20 Playboy models dropped to their knees to grab $5000 chips male guests threw around the room.

In 2012, the chubby, mild-mannered "Asian Gatsby" threw the wildest party Las Vegas had ever seen to celebrate his 31st birthday.

The staggeringly expensive event saw Jamie Foxx joining Kanye West to perform Gold Digger; Britney Spears bursting out of a cake; songs from Ludacris, Redfoo, Busta Rhymes, Pharrell Williams and Chris Brown; and Psy bringing the house down with the year's monster hit Gangnam Style.

 

Producer Swizz Beatz, recording artist Alicia Keys and Jho Low at the 56th Grammy Awards. Picture: Christopher Polk
Producer Swizz Beatz, recording artist Alicia Keys and Jho Low at the 56th Grammy Awards. Picture: Christopher Polk

The multimillion-dollar extravaganza - attended by Bradley Cooper, Alicia Keys, Benicio del Toro, Zach Galifianakis, Kim Kardashian, Tobey Maguire and Michael Phelps - had a ferris wheel, casino lounge and carousel, arranged by the city's top promoters for their most lucrative "whale" (or big spender).

Before New Year, Mr Low flew 40 friends and models to Australia in a rented Boeing 747 for several days of partying before flying them back to Vegas to see in 2013 a second time.

The debauchery could not last forever. By 2016, the Justice Department had unveiled its biggest corruption case on record against the elusive financier, who was accused of laundering billions through 1MDB, a wealth management fund set up to invest Malaysian government money.

 

Model Gigi Hadid meets Jho Low at a star-studded function in 2014. Picture: Dimitrious Kambouris
Model Gigi Hadid meets Jho Low at a star-studded function in 2014. Picture: Dimitrious Kambouris

 

HOLLYWOOD'S HIGHEST ROLLER

Mr Low's family was well off, but he was not royalty or the son of wealthy mining magnates. He gained a taste for the high life while at London's elite Harrow public school, alongside the children of leaders from Brunei and Kuwait, and appeared drawn to fame like a moth to the flame.

Investigations by The Hollywood Reporter, Wall Street Journal and The New York Times uncovered a murky and complex web of offshore companies, luxury real estate purchases in Manhattan and Beverly Hills and accounts used to siphon off billions from 1MDB.

And some of that allegedly illicit cash found its way to the Malaysian prime minister's stepson, Riza Aziz, whose production company Red Granite made Dumb and Dumber To, Daddy's Home, and Martin Scorsese's $100 million The Wolf of Wall Street.

Aziz was later charged with five counts of money laundering. He has pleaded not guilty and the case continues.

 

Jho Low (right) with Riza Aziz (left) and Joey McFarland at The Wolf Of Wall Street premiere in New York in 2013. Picture: Michael Loccisano
Jho Low (right) with Riza Aziz (left) and Joey McFarland at The Wolf Of Wall Street premiere in New York in 2013. Picture: Michael Loccisano

 

Malaysia's then prime minister, Najib Razak, was meanwhile enjoying a decadent lifestyle with wife Rosmah Mansor. Rosmah became notorious for her designer spending sprees, and Mr Low threw her a party in New York attended by Charlize Theron and Robert De Niro.

Mr Najib faced growing criticism after investigators found a $681 million payment to his bank account and a message from Mr Low telling him to expect 681 "American pies".

The PM was ousted by angry Malaysians in the May 2018 election, and $273 million in cash and luxury items were recovered from his properties. He is now on trial over corruption, laundering and breach of trust. He denies all the charges.

Malaysia also filed criminal charges relating to 1MDB against Goldman Sachs and 17 current and former employees, with one admitting to bribery. The bank maintains that any wrongdoing was down to rogue employees.

 

Actor Leonardo Di Caprio with Jho Low at The Wolf of Wall Street premiere in Paris. Picture: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff
Actor Leonardo Di Caprio with Jho Low at The Wolf of Wall Street premiere in Paris. Picture: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff

 

'THE KLEPTOCRATS'

Despite rumours he is hiding out in Thailand, Macau, Hong Kong and mainland China, the elusive financier has hired two law firms and three PR companies to defend him.

Last year, he tried to have a book, Billion Dollar Whale, by the Journal reporters removed from bookstores across the world.

His lawyers have now sent out letters demanding that a documentary about his alleged crimes, The Kleptocrats, should not be distributed. "It's the usual attempt by these lawyers to frighten people off their story. None of the issues that they raised are relevant," producer Mike Lerner told news.com.au.

"He obviously has enough money to stay on the run and I'm sure he has no intention of facing court or facing justice.

"That kind of money can buy you freedom, I guess, if you're prepared to live in the middle of nowhere. It's pretty sad because obviously he's in some kind of exile. What he very much liked doing was socialising with people in America and flaunting his wealth and buying friends."

On his website, Mr Low maintains his innocence and says he cannot "receive a fair trial'' under a Malaysian regime that has "fabricated evidence" in the past. He claims he is the victim of a media campaign to make him look like "a guilty fugitive".

The once fawning celebrities, overawed by immense wealth that put even theirs in the shade, have little to say about their embarrassing lack of curiosity.

"I don't care whether my name is associated, I didn't do anything," De Niro is heard telling a journalist in the documentary. "Get the f**k outta here."

With the authorities trying to recover $2 billion, Kerr has handed in jewellery including a $1.3 million necklace with a heart-shaped diamond. DiCaprio returned multimillion-dollar paintings by Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat and Marlon Brando's 1955 Oscar, which reportedly cost Mr Low $600,000. Red Granite paid back around $60 million.

Mr Low's $35 million jet was seized in Singapore. And his $250 million yacht is now a playground for Kylie's set to continue the party, with its new owners renting it out to celebrities who can afford its exorbitant price tag.

Emma Reynolds is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @emmareyn


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