Jho Low says millions of 1MDB dollars he used were 'loans' to him

Fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho has claimed that millions of dollars siphoned from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), Malaysia’s debt-ridden state fund, were merely loans to him.

He went on to blame former prime minister Najib Razak for the downfall of the fund.

The businessman, who is more commonly known as Jho Low, made the claims in conversations with a Malaysian government representative that were made public by Al Jazeera yesterday.

He reportedly made the remarks in recorded phone conversations between May and November 2018 – after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s coalition won the election that year, unseating Najib’s long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

Low’s revelations during the calls appeared to be a bid to bargain for his freedom. He has been a fugitive from the law in both Singapore and Malaysia since 2016.

In the conversations, Low said he believed he had not committed any wrongdoing. He described the millions in 1MDB money that he had used to increase his own personal wealth and assets as loans.

“All these ultimately were loans, directly or indirectly… I think the time has come, we want to assist in repatriating these assets back… and moving on with life without, you know, being prosecuted.”

The US Department of Justice has estimated that at least US$4.5 billion (S$6 billion) was looted from 1MDB during Najib’s tenure as prime minister.

Low, who has two Interpol red notices and a US arrest warrant against him, has been a fugitive for the past four years.

The recordings are the first time he has been known to have made any public remarks regarding his role in the scandal.

He asserted that the blame for the scandal lay at the feet of Najib, who, as Finance Minister then, could authorise the transfer of 1MDB monies. Low also claimed he had spent north of US$500 million on jewellery and luxury items for Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, using 1MDB monies.

“I have no authority to make any decision… It’s a pretty known fact that… all the approvals have to be approved by the Minister of Finance,” he said in the recordings.

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Low also poured cold water on Najib’s years-long claim that about US$700 million which ended up in Najib’s personal account was a donation from Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah. “The reality is, it is true that King Abdullah actually agreed to give a donation to the PM, but that was a small portion of the larger portion.”

Najib, who faces 42 counts of corruption and money laundering related to the 1MDB scandal, was convicted on seven of the charges by the Malaysian High Court in July. He is out on bail pending an appeal.

At the time of the phone calls, Low was reportedly in China, and had skipped a meeting scheduled to take place with his Malaysian government contact in Macau.

Low’s Malaysian passport has been cancelled and his St Kitts and Nevis passport has also been deactivated. But Al Jazeera cited flight records showing his travel footprint included moving from Bangkok to Dubai via India as recently as last November on a privately chartered flight, using yet another passport, issued by the Caribbean nation of Grenada.

The report says Low has been living in Macau, a special administrative region of China, since 2018.

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Former finance minister Daim Zainuddin, who was a key adviser to Dr Mahathir’s administration, said in 2018 and last year that Low had tried to reach out to him to negotiate immunity from the government and to offer help with negotiations over the East Coast Rail Link project.

But Tun Daim told The Straits Times yesterday that “he never spoke to him (Low)”.

• Additional reporting by Leslie Lopez

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