Documents relating to an investigation by Kuwaiti anti-money laundering officials into billions missing from Malaysia’s East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) and pipeline projects have been made available to Sarawak Report.
The enquiry, which was initiated by Malaysia’s PH government in June 2018, produced sensational findings regarding more missing billions from Malaysia’s public funds that indicate no less than TEN BILLION DOLLARS were looted by the Najib government from 1MDB and these two projects alone. However, the information was never passed back to Malaysia.
According to papers viewed by Sarawak Report in one instance a subsidiary of CCCC, the Chinese state owned construction company that was awarded the ECRL project by former prime minister Najib Razak, paid the royal Kuwaiti business partner of Najib’s proxy Jho Low, Sheikh Sabah Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah (son of the then Kuwaiti prime minister), over US$1.02 billion in Chinese yuan (CNY) during August 2017.
CNY 4.25 billion (RM2.7 billion /US$630 million) of the money was then immediately passed to Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance for a purported purchase of 1MDB land in Ayer Itam. Yet, tellingly, Sheikh Sabah never moved to confirm his ownership. It is believed the money was originally stolen from Malaysia by inflating the Chinese contracts and the primary purpose was to bail out 1MDB.
Sarawak Report has already revealed there had been a secret agreement between CCCC and the Malaysian government July 2016 to inflate the ECRL contract by 100% in return for a schedule of kickbacks that included debt repayments and inflated land purchases from from 1MDB totalling a projected US$7.5 billion. The transactions appear connected.
The same investigation shows that a staggering further US$4,8 billion later flowed through a separate company account owned by the same Sheikh Sabah at the same branch of the Chinese ICBC Bank in Kuwait opened in 2016.
This money resulted from numerous international transactions, the Kuwaiti investigators say, and they reveal that the co-signatory on this account was none other than a known close associate of Jho Low, Hamad Ali Al Wazzan (see featured our exclusive picture of Sheikh Sabah, Jho Low and Hamad Al Wazzan socialising in Kuwait).*
These findings indicate that on top of the almost US$5 billion already identified as having been stolen from 1MDB between 2009 and 2014 a further US$6 billion was lost to Malaysia via the same network orchestrated by Jho Low during the course of 2016-2018.
This was AFTER the scandal had been uncovered by Sarawak Report and AFTER Jho Low had become an international fugitive but before Najib Razak was deposed from power thanks to GE14.
It makes a total of at least TEN BILLION DOLLARS stolen from the Malaysian people thanks to 1MDB alone.
*[Update: Hamad Al Wazzan has disputed the integral role some have accused him of in this matter and says he is presently cooperating and assisting with on-going investigations in Kuwait into the laundering of 1MDB cash. He says he introduced Jho Low to Bashar Kiwan at Bashar Kiwan’s request, who in turn introduced Sheikh Sabah to Jho Low. He says did not act as Jho Low’s representative in Kuwait nor assist in the laundering of 1MDB money but did later take a series of separate assignments from Sheikh Sabah hence his role as signatory on an account].
Hamad Ali Al Wazzan is a name that is well-known to those who have followed the antics of Jho Low and 1MDB.
He was identified as a key associate of the flamboyant financier shortly after Jho started to catch media attention for his ostentatious spending in November 2009, just one month after the first $700 million was stolen from 1MDB.
As Jho earned his notorious reputation as a ‘party whale’ at New York nightclubs Hamad Ali Al Wazzan was put forward as having alleged that the money Jho was splashing was really his. Jho himself also claimed he was acting as a mere ‘concierge‘ organising the partying on behalf of rich Arab friends he had met at Harrow School (UK) and Wharton College (Pennsylvania):
A spokesperson for Avenue confirmed Low helped rack up a $160,000 bill in September but added: “The tab was picked up by a friend of [Low’s] from Kuwait. That friend is international man about town Hamad Alwazzan, who also lives at the Park Imperial, according to an e-mail he sent to The Post.
In the e-mail, Alwazzan claims it is he, not Low, who’s the big spender in town.
“I have been on holiday in New York since August 2009 and grown quite fond of the city,” Alwazzan wrote. “I am especially fond of investment opportunities in real estate, as well as the food, quality of life, and lifestyle.” [New York Post Nov 8th 2009]
Later Jho changed his story and claimed to be a third generation billionaire. However, news coverage had started to confuse the young college grad, who had met Jho Low at Wharton College whilst reportedly on a swimming scholarship, with a well-known Kuwaiti businessman with a similar name, Hamad Mohammad al Wazzan, who is several decades older and the Chairman and CEO of the Al Wazzan Group of Companies.
Although Jho Low encouraged that confusion, those who know the situation in Kuwait say the boy had little family money and he was just part of a trusted network of friends whom Jho Low used to front his operations.
At first Hamad Al Wazzan was an outsider. When Jho Low first established his business partnership with the Al Sabah family, through Sheikh Sabah the elder son of the prime minister, he worked through Sheikh Sabah’s close business contact, Bachar Kiwan, founder of the Al Waseet group of companies.
Sarawak Report has documented how Jho Low transferred an original CNY450 million (cUS$60m) from CCCC into the account of Komoros Gulf General Trading & Contracting Company at the Kuwait branch of the Chinese ICBC Bank, which was managed by Kiwan.
Kiwan, who owned Komoros Gulf together with Sheikh Sabah, has told Sarawak Report that Jho Low had promised that a total of over US$3 billion in ‘commissions’ to Najib from Chinese contracts would be passed through the same arrangement under the guise of a purported Chinese Silk Road Fund investment project involving CCCC and the Al Sabah family in Kuwait. Kiwan now believes the project was largely a facade to disguise the cash.
However, the early arrangement collapsed following demands by Jho Low to involve the main Al Waseet group directly in the vast money laundering transactions. Bachar Kiwan moved to sever his connections with Jho Low and Komoros Gulf:
“After that I realise that Jho Low saw me as a threat. Not only did he need to replace me as a business partner but he needed to destroy me. I did not understand this at the time as I thought I could remove myself from this operation without such consequences.”
Kiwan has told Sarawak Report. Shortly after the rupture he says he became the target of state backed persecution mounted by the Al Sabah family, which he believes was orchestrated as a revenge by Jho Low. He and fellow directors were prosecuted on numerous trumped up charges relating to alleged offences against Sheikh Sabah resulting in prison sentences totalling 32 years.
Following torture and solitary confinement Bachar Kiwan succeeded in escaping Kuwait and has resisted Red Notice attempts to extradite him back from Europe on the grounds of political persecution. However, three fellow directors remain in jail.
It was at this point that records show that operations switched to separate companies controlled by Al Sabah, although they were still managed through accounts at the same ICBC Bank branch newly opened in Kuwait.
Bachar Kiwan has alleged that it was at this point that Jho Low installed his trusted Kuwaiti confidant Hamad Ali Al Wazzan to act as his business proxy to manage these money laundering operations through the new companies owned by Sheikh Sabah. Hamad Al Wazzan denies this was his role and says he had been separately hired by Sheikh Sabah to assist in new enterprises.
Jho was able to introduce his contact, claims Kiwan, during negotiations by Jho Low to buy into Sheikh Sabah’s Comoros based Banque Fédérale de Commerce, in which he involved Al Wazzan:
He was anxious to introduce him [Hamad Al Wazzan] to al Sabah, it’s only because of the bank in Comoros al Sabah accepted to meet him. The truth was Hamad Ali al Wazzan was from a poor family … his mum is from Egypt, actually al Sabah saw him as an Egyptian”
This version of events is contested by Hamad Al Wazzan who has called Bachar Kiwan’s evidence unreliable and vindictive.
Following Bachar Kiwan’s own dramatic fall from grace he had no further direct involvement in the laundering of this money from Malaysia. However, Sarawak Report now has obtained information from Kuwait’s own money laundering authorities showing that Hamad Al Wazzan moved into a key position managing companies and bulging bank accounts that were supposedly 100% owned by Sheikh Sabah.**
According to the documentation, which the Kuwait money laundering authority passed only to the Kuwait Ministry of the Interior owing to the political sensitivity of the matter, two further companies owned by Sheikh Sabah were involved in suspicious transactions involving Malaysia.
Their investigation was prompted by Malaysia’s discovery in 2018 that the mystery Kuwaiti shareholder of the Cayman Island company Silk Road Southeast Asia Real Estate Limited, which paid RM2.7 billion suspected of having been stolen from Malaysia in the first place for 1MDB land in Ayer Itam, was none other than Sheikh Sabah.
One of these companies identified was Al Asbah International General Trading, incorporated in Kuwait 20th June 2017 with Sheikh Sabah as the only shareholder and a capital of a thousand dinars. The sole signatory on the accounts held by this company at ICBC Bank was also Sheikh Sabah.
According to the report this company showed activity in its accounts only on one day, 28th August 2017, when no less than seven transfers were made totalling a staggering 7,279,500,000 Chinese Yuan (US$1,023,264,028 / RM4,396,993,028) from a company called Multi-Strategic Investments Limited based in Hong Kong.
This account opened 14th July 2017 … the transactions on this account was limited to seven transfers all coming on 28th August 2017 from one sender for the entire amount of 7279500000 yuan (343700000 Kuwait Dinars) [ $1.02bn/ US$1,023,264,028]. This is not consistent with the capital of the company which is 1,000 KD. Sender Multi-Strategic Investments Limited HK, China” [Kuwait Money Laundering Authority]
Sarawak Report has established from the Hong Kong company registry that the owner of Multi-Strategic Investments Limited is the same subsidiary of CCCC, Zhen Hua Engineering Company Limited, that had earlier transferred hundreds of millions of yuan to Komoros Gulf as reported by Bachar Kiwan:
According to the Kuwaiti investigators in a matter of just two days 425,300,000 CNY was then paid out from this money to the Malaysian Ministry of Finance on 30th August -ostensibly for the purchase of the company that owned the 1MDB land in Ayer Itam.
Indeed, the money was transferred through a series of accounts all owned by Sheikh Sabah at the same Kuwait branch of ICBC Bank. First, the entire sum was sent from the recipient Al Asbah International General Trading account to Sheikh Sabah’s own personal account at the bank on the same day that it arrived on 28th August.
Then on 30th August a lesser sum of 4253000000 CNY was transferred from the Sheikh’s personal account to the account of Silk Road Southeastasia Real Estate Limited also held at the very same branch of ICBC bank. This off-shore vehicle had been incorporated in the Cayman Islands just a few days earlier and was also beneficially owned by Sheikh Sabah:
“On the same day, 28 Aug 2017, the amount of 7278500000 (343700000 Kuwait Dinars) [$1.02bn] was transferred to Sheikh Sabah’s personal account at the same bank. On 30th August 2017 4253000000 CNY (200m Kuwait Dinars) was then transferred from Sheikh Sabah’s account to the Silk Road Southeast Real Estate Ltd account at the same bank of whom the shareholder was Sheikh Sabah [despite the fact Kuwait does not allow banks to hold accounts for off shore companies].
Then this company transferred that same amount to the Malaysian company Sentuhan Budiman Sdn Bhd [owned by Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance]. The reason given to the bank was for buying shares.
After this there was no further transaction on these accounts”
says the report.
That sum of 4253000000 CNY is the exact amount reported by the Malaysian Finance Minister Guan Eng as having been paid for the 1MDB Ayer Itam land, which Malaysia suspected had originated from kickbacks organised by Najib’s Ministry of Finance to disguise the bail out of 1MDB with public money.
Just a few weeks before the finance ministry had astonishingly paid 88% of an inflated pipe line contract up front to Chinese state contractors in a hasty deal. At the time the Malaysian prime minister was desperately trying to meet debt repayments due by the fund from which billions had already been looted.
The details from Kuwait appear to provide damning evidence confirming the suspicions about massive Chinese kickbacks for inflated projects. Meanwhile, the laundering process seems to have left a significant 3025500000 CNY [US$426 million] in Sheikh Sabah’s personal account.
A second account where the Kuwaiti investigators reported suspicious transactions related to 1MDB belonged to the company Al Mouniratyen International General Trading incorporated in Kuwait on 19th Oct 2016, shortly after Bachar Kiwan exited Komoros Gulf having fallen out with Jho Low and Sheikh Sabah.
Sheikh Sabah was the sole shareholder of Al Mouniratyen International, which again had a mere thousand dinar capital base. However, investigators noted the potentially significant fact that there was a co-signatory for the company’s account (also held at ICBC Bank in Kuwait) namely Jho Low’s contact, Hammad Ali Hassan Al Wazzan.
According to the report, despite the modest nature of the company, a staggering US$4.8 billion dollars was soon to be transacted through its ICBC bank account, despite there being no apparent business activity for the company or indeed staff to generate such amounts:
“Al Mouniratyen International General Trading opened the account [at ICBC] Nov 1 2016 and there were a lot of transactions with different entities in different countries between 2018-19 with transfers in and out without any clear economic reason or motivation despite the significance of the amounts. The total amount of money transacted was 1,480,246,400 Kuwaiti Dinars[$4.8 Billion]. The amount is not consistent with the capital of 1,000 KD and there is no proof of any commercial activities for such amounts.”
The initial report to the Ministry of the Interior did not cite the origin of much of the money or the details on the several transactions beyond noting that many of the payments both in an out appeared to follow a ‘modus operandi’ of being registered as payments for contracts, which were then subsequently cancelled sometimes without the money being returned. For example:
“One transfer out of 145m euros (52,114,000 KD) to the account of Midas Commodities Agents Limited, based in the Bahamas with an HQ in the Seychelles, was to buy commodities of bitumen and steel. This contract was between El M was for the purpose of selling the goods. The bank says the company then told it that Midas Commodities Agents didn’t have the ability to find the goods, so Al Mouniratyen gave them a one week extension till July 2017, but they didn’t manage to complete the contract they signed a contract termination with Midas Commodities Agents Limited on 17th July 2017 which included a five million euro penalty. However, the money didn’t come back and the company said that the reason was there was a management change. They said they would take legal measures against Midas but we have no proof there was any action.”
The report also refers to a similar aborted payment with another entity already identified by Sarawak Report for having a clear connection with Jho Low, namely the Century Banking Corporation Ltd in Mauritius, which was taken over by another close business proxy from Thailand, Phengphian Laogumnerd.
The record of the company showed more big transfers done with the same business modus operandi of the contract being terminated. There is a transfer from Al Mouniratyen of 156m euros (61m KD) 29th December 2016 to the Century Banking Corporation Ltd in Mauritius. The reason of the transfer is to fulfil obligations with suppliers. The money returned to Al Mouniratyen on 3rd Jan 2017 and on the document it said the contract was cancelled and this was the reason for the return of the money. There are also two transfers from Al Mouniratyen on 28th Feb 2018 together totalling 145 hundred million euros and (53mKD) and the reason given is payment for a supply agreement to Khaleesi International Limited. This amount came back to the account on 20th March and 2nd April. The documents show the contract was cancelled. ICBC bank showed the contract for both companies and we could see no valid reason for these transactions which were cancelled and why without any reason the money was brought back in less than two months. These transactions were inconsistent with a one shareholder company with just 1,000 KD capital base”
As a result the money laundering investigators said in their report that they were satisfied there had been suspicious activity on the companies owned by Sheikh Sabah and run by Jho Low.
However, instead of notifying Malaysia in accordance with international protocols the Kuwaiti report notes that the money laundering authority instead passed on the report to the Ministry of Interior’s Secret Service Department, owing to the ‘sensitive nature’ of the ownership of the company and the potential for embarrassment if the truth were to be revealed.
“After getting all the information we have the conviction that these are suspicious transactions. [But] We received a clear instruction from the highest level to hide the truth and to answer on behalf of the owner of the company Sheikh Sabah and his legal representative the lawyer Saud AbdelMohsen.”
The report ended.
Sarawak Report has earlier reported information that the Sheikh and his lawyer were briefly interviewed by the Ministry of the Interior before the case was shut in Kuwait. On December 6th 2018 an answer was sent to the Malaysians to say that all had been legal and properly documented with respect to the various transactions and nothing suspicious was detected.
Sarawak Report has been informed that the head of Kuwait’s money laundering authority resigned from his post shortly after this investigation and his position has yet to be filled with a replacement.
*updated (June 1st 2021): Hamad al Wazzan has denied that he was acting as Jho Low’s proxy or agent in Kuwait.