KUALA LUMPUR (June 10): Fugitive Malaysian financier Jho Low traveled to Kuwait last September, slipped past international arrest notices and authorities in the U.S. and Malaysia seeking him for his alleged role in the multibillion-dollar state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) fraud, says the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
In a report June 9, WSJ said Low entered Kuwait despite red notices from international police agency Interpol, citing documents it reviewed and people familiar with his Kuwait relationships.
It said the Kuwait connection has provided Low means to fend off U.S. and Malaysian investigators who accuse him of masterminding the plunder of 1MDB.
Low has so far denied any wrongdoing.
WSJ said Low had turned to Kuwait’s royal family in early 2016, as U.S. authorities began closing in and unraveling his life as a jet-setting deal-maker who financed the “The Wolf of Wall Street” movie and extravagant parties that drew Leonardo DiCaprio and other stars.
It said on visits to Kuwait in early 2016, Low sought out a son of the prime minister, Sheikh Sabah Al-Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, whom he had met years earlier, and offered to use his contacts in China to steer investments to Kuwait, said a French businessman present at their meetings.
It cited businessman, Bachar Kiwan, then a business partner of the sheikh, as quoting Low of saying at a dinner event: “‘I earned billions in Malaysia. I will earn a hundred billion in China, minimum.”
WSJ added that the Kuwaiti ties brought Low new protectors, new business deals and new channels for moving money.
It said banks there handled hundreds of millions of dollars tied to Low’s activities, including millions in payments to companies in the U.S. and U.K. to cover his mounting legal bills, citing people familiar with the transactions and documents it reviewed.
WSJ explained that Malaysian investigators said they traced a trail of money from China to a Chinese bank in Kuwait and onward to a Cayman Islands entity partly controlled by Low that then paid nearly US$1 billion for Low-controlled assets in Malaysia to pay some 1MDB debts.
The transactions were in Chinese yuan to skirt U.S. attention, the investigators said, it added.
WSJ said representatives for Low declined to comment.
The journal said a spokesperson for Sheikh Sabah said he “categorically denies any wrongdoing,” and that the allegations about Low and the sheikh are false and originate from Kiwan and his associates who “have been indicted and convicted for forgery, fraud, and criminal breach of trust and other criminal acts against Sheikh Sabah.”
Meanwhile, WSJ reported that Kiwan said he became a target for retribution by Sheikh Sabah, who owned a stake in Kiwan’s Kuwait-based publishing and media firm, Al Waseet, after balking at a request from Low to shift money between different company accounts.
It added that Low ultimately used Al Waseet to move 1.4 billion yuan (US$200 million), according to Kiwan and documents viewed.
Kiwan later fled Kuwait, hiding in a truck that took him to Iraq, after he was detained and, he said, beaten and otherwise mistreated by Kuwaiti secret services, said WSJ.
The New York-based daily said Kiwan, who is in France, was convicted in absentia in Kuwait of forgery and document falsification—charges he denies.
It said his brother-in-law and brother are imprisoned in Kuwait after being convicted, respectively, on forgery and people-smuggling charges for helping Mr. Kiwan flee.
WSJ said the Kuwaiti government didn’t respond to requests for comment, nor did the Malaysian government.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Low’s activities in Kuwait.
The U.S. Justice Department alleges that more than US$4.5 billion in 1MDB holdings disappeared into intricate financial structures orchestrated by Mr. Low.
Its collapse led to the unseating of his patron, then-Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who is on trial for money laundering and abuse-of-power charges relating to 1MDB.
Najib denies the charges.