Harrow schoolboy who makes Wolf of Wall Street look like a pussycat: He threw Gatsby parties with Gwyneth Paltrow and gave a Picasso to DiCaprio… now he faces a £3bn probe into what could be one of the world’s biggest frauds
- Jho Low was sent to Harrow sixth form by his businessman father in 1988
- Since then he’s been dubbed the ‘Asian Great Gatsby’ for his debauched parties
- He was happy to buy the company of famous friends, like Leonardo DiCaprio
- Now, the question of where Low got his money has become the subject of intensive investigations across the globe
Even by the opulent standards of Las Vegas, it was the most lavish party the city had seen for many years.
Guests were ferried by limos to a vast marquee which had been specially built to house a Ferris wheel, carousel, circus performers and a nightclub.
It was a glittering scene for an equally glittering guest list that included film and pop stars, models, Middle Eastern princes and Wall Street bankers.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro led a Hollywood contingent that included the director Martin Scorsese and actors Bradley Cooper, Tobey Maguire and Jamie Foxx.
Others included rapper Kanye West and girlfriend Kim Kardashian, socialite Paris Hilton and Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps.
It was November 2012 and they had come to celebrate the 31st birthday of their generous host, a podgy, bespectacled Old Harrovian who calls himself Jho Low.
Jho Low, a podgy, bespectacled Old Harrovian dubbed the ‘Asian Great Gatsby’, parties with Paris and Nicky Hilton in 2010
A string of rap stars — like so many others, paid handsomely to attend — performed on stage and a tipsy DiCaprio jumped up to join in.
A giant faux wedding cake was wheeled in and Britney Spears popped out in a skimpy gold number to sing Happy Birthday.
A nightclub company — which long ago identified Low as a ‘whale’, the name casinos and clubs give to massive spenders — gave him a red Lamborghini, while another guest presented three expensive Ducati motorbikes.
Low’s Cambridge-educated brother Sven, trumped them by giving him a ribbon-wrapped $ 2.5million Bugatti Veyron.
Even by the end of the party — which lasted until the following afternoon as Low gambled vast sums in his favourite casino — many guests may still have known little about their mysterious host.
What was plain was that he was mind-blowingly rich and ready to spend recklessly at a time when the rest of the world was tightening its belt after the financial crash.
Dubbed the ‘Asian Great Gatsby’, Low had little to say for himself — the beautiful women he surrounded himself with assumed he was just shy — and often preferred merely to observe at the debauched parties he threw in New York, Vegas and St Tropez.
Leonardo DiCaprio was a regular presence at Jho Low’s bashes, along with Foxx and rapper Usher (above, with Low)
Low’s presents to his celeb friends have had to go back. Leonardo DiCaprio (pictured with Low) handed over multi-million-dollar paintings by Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat to U.S. officials last year
He was happy to buy the company of some of his most famous friends with multi-million-dollar gifts of paintings and jewellery, or just straight cash payments.
Now, however, the question of where Low got his money has become the subject of intensive investigations across the globe.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, the playboy whose full name is Low Taek Jho, is involved in the stunning theft of at least $ 4.5 billion from a giant Malaysian government investment fund known formally as 1 Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB. The sum involved would make it one of the biggest ever financial heists.
In Singapore, he has been charged with money laundering and receiving stolen property.
Malaysia has also brought criminal charges, accusing him of laundering $ 450 million in stolen funds through bank accounts in Singapore, the Cayman Islands, the U.S. and Switzerland.
In America, where Low only faces a civil action, the Justice Department alleges he helped siphon off at least $ 4.5 billion from 1MDB between 2009 and 2015. It has been seeking to seize nearly $ 2 billion of assets allegedly bought with the stolen money.
They include hundreds of millions of pounds worth of art, jewellery and property (including several mansions in London). Indonesia helped seize Low’s $ 250 million, 300ft superyacht, while Singapore confiscated a $ 35 million private jet on which the playboy spent much of his time.
In response to the seizure of his yacht, Mr Low’s representative said it was ‘disappointing that, rather than reflecting on the deeply flawed and politically motivated allegations, the DoJ is continuing with its pattern of global reach — all based on unsupported claims of wrongdoing’.
At 16, in 1998, Low (pictured at the school) was sent to Harrow sixth form by his father, a Chinese-Malaysian businessman
At a 2010 nightclub jaunt in St Tropez with Paris Hilton (above, with Low), he paid £1.8million for a ‘bottle parade’ — a stream of oversized bottles of champagne brought out by models
In recent days, the former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak and his flamboyant wife Rosmah Mansor, nicknamed ‘Malaysia’s Imelda Marcos’, have been charged with corruption offences relating to the 1MDB scandal.
They insist they are innocent. Razak lost power in May in a tide of voter anger at corruption.
Low, 38, claims he is innocent. He is now presumed to be in China, safe so far from Interpol’s efforts to reach him.
However, this hasn’t stopped him vigorously defending himself against a new book out in America about his alleged role in the 1MDB heist.
In Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood And The World, authors Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, who reported on 1MDB for the Wall Street Journal, claim Low was adept at persuading profit-hungry banks, auditors and lawyers to drop their guard and help him transfer billions across the globe.
Prosecutors allege Low and his confederates — including Razak and his wife — were able to spend it not on developing Malaysia but on enriching themselves.
Defending himself on his website, Low claims he ‘will be vindicated once all the evidence has been presented in a fair and legitimate court’.
He adds: ‘With hindsight I may have done things differently, like any young person, but any mistakes I made do not amount to the sweepingly broad and destructive allegations made against me.’
He condemns the new book as ‘guilt-by-lifestyle, and trial-by-media at its worst’.
Critics say he should come out of hiding and defend himself properly in court. A spokesman for Low, through his lawyers, said: ‘Low will not submit to any jurisdiction where guilt has been pre-determined by politics, and self-interest overrules legal process.’
Meanwhile, the party is over for his celebrity pals. While there’s no suggestion of wrongdoing on their part, the inference their company can be bought is embarrassing.
Low’s presents have had to go back — DiCaprio handed over multi-million-dollar paintings by Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat to U.S. officials last year, along with the Oscar statuette Marlon Brando won for On The Waterfront — another gift from Low, who paid $ 600,000 for it.
Australian model Miranda Kerr gave up diamond jewellery worth $ 8.1 million that Low lavished on her in the year — 2014 — in which they reportedly went out together and even got engaged.
There’s nothing, however, officials can do about the 23 bottles of Cristal champagne Low had sent to Lindsay Lohan’s table at a smart Manhattan nightclub for her belated 23rd birthday.
Low says he first made the connections that launched his business career at the North-West London public school which produced a string of luminaries from Sir Winston Churchill to Benedict Cumberbatch.
At 16, in 1998, he was sent to Harrow sixth form by his father, a Chinese-Malaysian businessman. There, Low was introduced to members of some of the world’s richest families, including scions of the royal families of Brunei and Kuwait. ‘That time was very important for me,’ Low reflected in 2010. ‘That’s when I built the core foundation of contacts for the future.’
His father, Low Hock Peng, a clothing factory owner in Penang, Malaysia, was hardly poor but he was only a millionaire, and at Harrow Low was trying to keep up with the sons of billionaires.
When he invited some of them to spend a summer in Malaysia, he borrowed a 160ft yacht and imposing house from a rich family friend, swapping the owners’ family photos with those of his own to ensure they believed his family was super-rich, the book claims.
The boys had secret roulette gambling sessions in the school library, and Low once procured the letterhead of the Brunei Embassy and forged a letter to the trendy Chinawhite nightclub in the West End, reserving tables for members of the Brunei royal family.
The ruse worked and his rich friends were hugely impressed, say the authors. Low spent school holidays at the family’s flat in South Kensington where he befriended Riza Aziz, the young stepson of a Malaysian politician — Najib Razak. It was to prove a crucial contact.
Low threw a high-stakes gambling party in Las Vegas (above, file photo) where guests included DiCaprio and a 20-strong group of Playboy Playmates, who scrambled around on all fours to collect $ 5,000 chips the male guests threw casually around the room
Low went to university at the Wharton business school in Philadelphia, alma mater of Donald Trump.
Bankrolled by his father, Low celebrated his 20th birthday by throwing his first lavish party at a nightclub, where a model wearing a bikini made of lettuce leaves lay across the bar while guests were invited to eat sushi off her.
Despite still being a student, he won and lost huge sums — once $ 200,000 in a night — in the casinos of Atlantic City. According to Billion Dollar Whale, Low’s greatest coup was in persuading Razak to let him run 1MDB.
The Malaysian PM inherited oversight of the so-called sovereign wealth fund when he became PM in 2009. It was supposed to encourage foreign investment in Malaysia, but prosecutors say it was used to steal state funds which were transferred into the accounts of Razak and associates including Low.
Low never had an official position with 1MDB and says he was only an informal adviser. Explaining his wealth, he has previously claimed he comes from a rich family.
In 2009 — the year Razak became PM — Low threw a high-stakes gambling party in Las Vegas where guests included DiCaprio and a 20-strong group of Playboy Playmates.
The latter scrambled around on all fours to collect the $ 5,000 chips the male guests threw casually around the room.
Model Gigi Hadid and Jho Low at the attend Angel Ball 2014 in New York City
And that was just the start. According to the authors, in the eight months between October 2009 and June 2010, Low and his entourage spent $ 85million on alcohol, gambling, private jets, renting superyachts and paying Playboy glamour models and Hollywood celebs to spend time with them.
He set himself up in a $ 100,000-a-month flat in New York and hired a squad of bodyguards. On a single session during New York Fashion Week, he and his pals ran up a $ 160,000 bar bill at a nightclub, it was reported at the time.
On another occasion, he once gambled away $ 2 million in ten minutes, says the book.
It also says Low — a mild-mannered and courteous man who close friends nicknamed Panda because of his cuddliness — primarily saw money as a way of getting close to the rich and famous, and becoming famous himself.
He also realised that the presence of celebrities and models impressed potential investors and bankers.
He put the word out in showbusiness circles that he was happy to pay celebs and models handsomely to attend his parties.
Paris Hilton has denied reports Low paid her as much as $ 1 million to attend events with him, but the new book says celebrities claimed to receive around $ 100,000 per event. Many didn’t need to be paid, lured simply by the promise of an unforgettable party.
When he threw a New York reception for the Malaysian PM’s wife, Low was able to boast De Niro and Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron on the guest list, the pair later joining others on stage to sing We Are The World — Low’s favourite song.
His parties escalated in indulgence — his 28th birthday at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas lasted several days and featured lions and tigers.
Without revealing Low’s identity, Jamie Foxx (pictured) once told Jonathan Ross how he celebrated New Year 2013 by renting a Boeing 747 and flying 40 friends and models to Australia for several days of wild partying and gambling
DiCaprio was a regular presence at Low bashes, along with Foxx and rapper Usher. Even the stars were awed by a host who thought nothing of buying champagne at $ 50,000 a bottle.
At a 2010 nightclub jaunt in St Tropez with Paris, he paid £1.8million for a ‘bottle parade’ — a stream of oversized bottles of champagne brought out by models.
‘He was the biggest spender I’ve ever met in my life,’ one of his jet-setting pals told the authors. ‘You could be having lunch in a restaurant in London and he’ll say: “Who wants to have dinner in New York?” Then he’d charter a jet and before you know it, you’re having dinner with the best wine of your life in Manhattan. Nothing was out of reach.’
Without revealing Low’s identity, Foxx once told chatshow host Jonathan Ross how the Malaysian celebrated New Year 2013 by renting a Boeing 747 and flying 40 friends and models to Australia for several days of wild partying and gambling.
On the stroke of midnight, they got back in the plane and flew 15 hours to Las Vegas in time to see in the New Year a second time.
Billion Dollar Whale says Low provided lavish financing for a new film production company — Red Granite Pictures — that made the $ 100 million Wolf Of Wall Street (starring DiCaprio and featuring financial excesses dwarfed by Low’s real-life antics), and the comedies Dumb And Dumber To, and Daddy’s Home.
No other producer would have allowed Wolf Of Wall Street director Martin Scorsese to crash a real Lamborghini in the opening scene, the authors note. In March, the film company agreed — without admitting wrongdoing — to pay $ 60 million to the U.S. Justice Department to settle claims it financed the three films in part with funds coming from 1MDB.
Low’s huge investment in art, including works by Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso and Andy Warhol is detailed in the book.
When he turned his voracious spending habits to jewellery, a principal beneficiary was supermodel Kerr. They met in January 2014 shortly after she split from actor Orlando Bloom, and struck up a discreet romance.
U.S. officials have recovered his Valentine’s present — a 1.3 million dollar necklace with a heart-shaped diamond — and other seven-figure baubles.
The full scale of the 1MDB scandal started to emerge in 2015, thanks to a whistleblower. The following year, the U.S. Justice Department unveiled its biggest corruption case on record against Low.
As he pays lawyers across the globe to fight the tide of allegations in his absence, opponents wonder just when the once ubiquitous Low will reappear to face the music in person.
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