Some time in early November 2014 the Editor of Sarawak Report noted that the Managing Director of a major corporate investigations company in London, namely K2 Intelligence (founded by the former owners of Kroll, Jules Kroll and his son Jeremy Kroll) was checking her out on Linked In.
Sure enough, a couple of days later on November 20th the same man, Jason Lewis (a former journalist), sent her a message through Linked In.
His company only occasionally received contracts related to Asia, he explained, but a project had come up and he wondered if Sarawak Report could help him with some “deep background” on the politics and “at worst base corruption” in Malaysia? This is what he said:
I am an ex-journalist (Mail on Sunday and Sunday Telegraph) and was passed your details by a former colleague of mine.These days I help run a business intelligence company in Mayfair .Anyway, one of our main sources of work is detailed background due dilligence in emerging international markets, much of it in Russia and the former Soviet Union.Ocassionally work comes up in Asia, but I confess, we lack a great deal of expertise in this area.A new project has arisen examining the possible pitfalls for an international client of doing business in Malaysia and I am looking for some help, preferably in London, to guide me through the initial stages of the work.I came across your very informative website, which mentions some of the names and companies that have come up in our early research, and I was wondering whether you would consider helping me out, either on a formal or informal basis?Any help would be treated in total confidence (with the same degree of trust I adopted throughout my journalistic career) and as deep background, but it would be most useful as I really have little idea of the ins and outs of the political sitiuation in the country, of who is connected to whom, in what, at first glance, seems very much a business and political community based on, at the very least, patronage and, certainly from some of the things you mention in your articles, at, worst, base corruption.I wonder whether we might meet for a coffee or over lunch to discuss this further?
Mr Lewis had claimed he had been directed to get in touch by a former journalist colleague, but the SR has no contacts in the papers he’d mentioned.
Moreover, a number of corporate investigators had started reaching out to SR round the same time, probing for information and offering money to produce ‘research papers for financial clients’ – offers which appeared to have ulterior motives and to be linked to our articles on 1MDB. So SR did not at that stage reply to Mr Lewis.
It has now emerged through court papers released this week, as part of further asset seizures against Jho Low by the US Dept of Justice, that there was an interesting connection between K2 and Jho Low, which had developed just a few days before Mr Lewis’s approach to Sarawak Report.
The FBI/DOJ investigators cited the details of a meeting between Jho Low and K2 on November 11th 2014. Their purpose was to help establish that Jho Low acknowledged his ownership of the three Mayfair properties at 9, 8 and 7 Stratton Street, which they have now moved to seize because they were bought with money stolen from 1MDB. The communications proved that Jho Low owned the penthouse at 9 Stratton Street (9SS) and the revelation he had engaged K2 was just a side matter to the FBI. This is what they say in the court deposition:
In another email dated on or about November 7, 2014, at 4:22 p.m., LOW used the email account “[email protected]” to email a representative of K2 Intelligence to schedule a meeting in London on or about November 11, 2014, at “either at K2’s office or 9SS whichever is closer.” One day later, on or about November 8, 2014, at 1:06 A.M., one of LOW’s affiliates emailed the K2 Intelligence representative and proposed a November 11, 2014, meeting with LOW “at [the STRATTON OFFICES] or your office,”
indicating both that LOW’s use of “9SS” in his earlier email was an abbreviation for the STRATTON OFFICES and that LOW was scheduling meetings at that property [FBI Court Filing 7th June 2017]
So, it makes a likely guess that K2’s unusual client from Asia that week was indeed Jho Low and it seems likely that it was on his behalf they approached SR. K2 advertises itself as a crisis manager, intelligence gatherer and risk assessment firm. By late 2014 Jho Low was in clear need of such services as growing questions had gathered around the world about his unattributed wealth and connections to the virtually bankrupt 1MDB. One of the main outfits asking those questions was Sarawak Report:
However, it must be asked what deep background Sarawak Report could provide that Jho Low did not have himself, unless what he really wanted to know was who we were talking to and what more we knew about his affairs?
Possibly, K2 coincidentally had picked up another client at the same time. One with entirely separate interests to Jho Low, which was looking to invest in Malaysia and wondering about corruption?
Perhaps they were seeking to check out their own concerns about one of their own clients?
Sarawak Report was sufficiently wary not to reply either way. Not least becuase there was already a great deal in the media that K2 could pick up, including from SR, to enable their company to come to a decision about their wealthy young Malaysian client and the business and political environment in Malaysia.
However, over the next few weeks Mr Lewis persisted in trying to get in touch.
Eventually, SR’s Editor relented with a cautious reply ” I am happy to help if I can, but would not pretend to business expertise nor would I wish to comment on things I do not have evidence about. But, if you would like to be more specific I will help if I can“, SR wrote to Mr Lewis on January 22nd.
Mr Lewis soon got back, claiming that his clients were Middle Eastern seeking to make investments in Malaysia and were particularly interested to know about corruption …. and more to the point, what SR knew about corruption and those who might be suspected by the establishment to be “rivals”of the PM: “the PM, the PM’s son, the PM’s brother, powerful media owners that sort thing”:
Dear Clare, many thanks for the response. So our clients are examining making some investments in Malaysia and have asked us to look into what they are getting themselves in to.
We are trying understand the political landscape and the bribery and corruption dangers they might face/need to avoid. The clients are middle eastern, but also have US partners, so they need to be conscious of the US FCPA, for example.
One issue we have been asked to examine is the various rivalries at the top of the political system (the PM, the PM’s son, the PM’s brother, powerful media owners that sort thing) and how this affects business relationships.
It was also suggested to us that we look at the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund and how this works in practice and what lessons can be learnt from it.
I was hoping you might be able to guide me on the background to some of this. I saw your articles on the 1MDB fund, for example, which looks like something our clients ought to be wary of.
It would be great if you were free to discuss this, perhaps over a coffee, or lunch if you have time?
As I said in my original email, I am very much looking for deep background guidance.
We now know that one of K2’s ‘occasional’ Asia clients at this exact period was none other than Jho Low, who was at that moment locked in a legal battle with the powerful media owner Kooi Ong Tong, whose paper The Edge had been investigating 1MDB. Jho had been accusing Tong of conspiracies and there was talk of high level political rivalries and power battles.
Indeed, people around the young Malaysian had started to claim that Sarawak Report was somehow part of these alleged groups of ‘plotters’ seeking to bring down 1MDB, Jho and his master Najib. Were these ‘plotters’ supposed to include even members of Najib’s own family and was Jho trying to find out how much SR knew about such matters?
Certainly, by early 2015 SR had drawn the attention of Jho Low and Najib with a number of stories focused on 1MDB, the questions over the financing of the Wolf of Wall Street and Low’s various ties with the Aabar sovereign wealth, including the Coastal Energy deal and an attempted buy out of London’s top Claridge’s Hotel group.
We had also zeroed in on Jho’s continuing role and influence at 1MDB, something he was denying. Unknown to him at that stage, we had seen much of the documentation from PetroSaudi by then. So, we had made clear we knew exactly what had gone on with the 1MDB deal.
K2 may have had other clients wanting to invest in Malaysia. However, their client Jho Low plainly also wanted to know who was briefing us and what more we knew.
Nevertheless, as far as being part of any conspiracy or rivalry involving powerful people in Malaysia, Jho Low had got that wrong. SR had not even heard of Tong in early 2015. We were merely following a story left by Jho Low’s own trails through the courts and in the media and through his various business contacts. SR therefore replied to K2:
“Dear Jason, I am not sure I am going to have any special information on such matters, which are more the purview of the national press – I focus on Sarawak and merely pick up on stories if I spot them. Then what I have is on my blog. However, perhaps you might like to speak on the phone?”
The K2 Managing Director eagerly agreed and eventually caught SR for a discussion by telephone in early February.
In that call he emphasised that there was a lot of highly lucrative work on offer by his company for the Editor of SR. All that would be involved would be to write up a paper detailing everything we knew about Malaysia and its political goings on, corruption, rivalries etc for his “deep background purposes”. No further research was necessary at this stage beyond telling him what we knew.
SR explained that everything it knew was already on the blog and available for free to the wider public. The Editor also made clear the concern that venturing further guesses, opinions and other speculative information as ‘deep background’ to third parties as he was suggesting, especially for money, could create problems for SR, in that such ‘private papers’ could be obtained and used by the many wealthy entities who were seeking to discredit, compromise and undermine the blog and its writer.
Therefore, SR made clear in that telephone conversation that a far more detailed outline of the exact questions K2 wanted answered would be needed before SR could possibly engage any further with his company. If he could provide this and in writing, SR could then consider his proposal. A few days later SR received this reply:
Re- Our Chat – thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me yesterday. It was most helpful to chat it through with you.
I will get back to you in the next few days re our discussion on getting you to write an overview paper for us. This would be really helpful but I need to sit down with a couple of my colleagues and thrash out a few questions that it might be particularly useful to ask you to address.
As I hinted, the wheels move rather slowly in the corporate world compared to what you and I might be used to. Best Jason
SR did not reply to this communication and it never heard from K2 again.