In early 2017 Jho Low was still fighting hard to retain over a billion dollars worth of global assets purchased with money stolen from 1MDB. Recently released recordings of conversations he held with Malaysian investigators the following year show that at the very least he was hoping to use the assets as bargaining chips to get himself off criminal charges.
The collection of companies, hotels, properties, artworks and luxury vehicles (including a jet, super yacht and several sports cars) were being held in a series of no less than 52 New Zealand Trusts set up on behalf of the Low family by the Swiss-based Rothschild Bank.
Such trusts are supposed to be independent and not under the control of the beneficiaries, although the system has been abused to shield identities and avoid tax. Therefore, when the well-known private bank found the US authorities knocking at their door it opted to protect its reputation and agreed to surrender up the suspicious assets.
After months beneath the radar the Low family suddenly emerged back into the limelight in a New Zealand courtroom in an attempt to prevent that happening by firing Rothschild Bank as their trustee and hiring a more pliant company named FFP in the Cayman Islands (staffed largely by New Zealanders) to do the job instead.
The case was contested on the grounds that beneficiaries of trusts are not supposed to dictate terms to the trustees in charge – that is the whole point of a legitimate trust. However, in a controversial ruling the New Zealand Judge, Justice Toogood, stated that the Low family ought to have the opportunity to defend their assets and so allowed the transfer.
The ruling was regarded worldwide as a major victory for the Lows as it enabled them to hang on to their assets for several more months and to string out the process expensively in court – in the end they surrendered the lot in a settlement with the US Department of Justice in late 2019. The criminal case against them remains outstanding:
“Under the terms of the settlement, Low, his family members, and FFP, a Cayman Islands entity serving as the trustees overseeing the assets at issue in these forfeiture actions, agreed to forfeit all assets subject to pending forfeiture complaints in which they have a potential interest. The trustees are also required to cooperate and assist the Justice Department in the orderly transfer, management and disposition of the relevant assets. From the assets formerly managed by FFP..
Low separately faces charges in the Eastern District of New York for conspiring to launder billions of dollars embezzled from 1MDB and for conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by paying bribes to various Malaysian and Emirati officials, and in the District of Columbia for conspiring to make and conceal foreign and conduit campaign contributions during the United States presidential election in 2012.”
[Dept Justice Statement Oct 30 2019]
It was at this juncture that the business relationship struck up by Jho Low in the early part of 2016 with Sheikh Sabah Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al- Sabah (Sheikh Sabah) proved once again invaluable to the fugitive fraudster.
By now one of the most notorious financial tricksters Jho Low had been finding it increasingly difficult to move his billions around the global banking system in order to pay for services and conduct his investments. Therefore, as exclusively reported by Sarawak Report, he began to transfer huge sums into accounts in the name of Sheikh Sabah and his businesses after which the Sheikh agreed to pay for Jho Low’s expenses in his own name.
In this manner, as Sarawak Report has earlier detailed, several top law firms were passed multi-million dollar payments to conduct services for Jho Low – payments they would have had difficulty in accepting directly from their client. Yacht hires and the services of a company ‘Concierge’ based in London were likewise funded through signed agreements with Sheikh Sabah.
A billion dollar payment to Abu Dhabi raised through a secretive payment by Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance to a Chinese contractor for alleged pipeline work was also funnelled through Sabah’s Kuwait accounts in order to pay of debts on 1MDB.
In confirmation of his role Sheikh Sabah has now been belatedly registered in the US FARA register of Foreign Agents as the ‘benefactor’ who was covering his ‘friend’ Jho’s legal and PR expenses. Previous to SR’s exposes he was referred to as a foreign principle by the various law firms involved, such as Kobre & Kim.
Sarawak Report has now viewed documentation that confirms that Sheikh Sabah performed the same service to cover the hefty costs of transferring the disputed trust funds into the control of FFP in the Cayman Islands.
Those familiar with the matter have confirmed to Sarawak Report that the costs of transferring no less than 52 off-shore trust companies to the new trustee (who plainly will not have been competitively priced, given the nature of the case) would have been “substantial” running into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
According to official reports made in response to Kuwaiti enquiries on the matter subsequent to Sheikh Sabah’s arrest in July (following Sarawak Report’s series of exposes in May) it was once again the Sheikh who had agreed to make these payments to FFP in his own name.
The FFP group has informed the Cayman Island Financial regulator CAYFIN, that the Sheikh “provided funding” in March 2017 to FFP Cayman Limited to cover the fees and management expenses involved in transferring the various trusts. The documentation further confirms that the beneficiaries of the trusts were Jho Low and his family.
The same enquiry shows how FFP considered themselves covered by the arrangement, with regard to any concerns about money laundering, in that the company had done ‘extensive due diligence’ into the Sheikh and his apparent impeccable credentials as the wealthy son of the royal prime minister of Kuwait and member of the Al Sabah family that had ruled in the oil rich emirate for over two hundred years.
This appears to have assured FFP that any money he paid them could be considered ‘clean’. Except, what is now being examined by the Kuwait authorities is the extent to which this was actually money laundering of Jho Low’s ill-gotten gains for which the Sheikh provided a convenient front.
Of particular interest to the Kuwait investigations must be the large percentage of the money that appears to have remained in Sheikh Sabah’s accounts after Jho’s own various transactions had been made, according to further Kuwaiti documents sighted by Sarawak Report.