Malaysia’s diplomatic and trade ties with Beijing outweigh its desire to seek “closure” in the 1MDB corruption scandal, causing it to turn a blind eye to fugitive financier Jho Low’s suspected whereabouts in China, according to rising political star Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman.
“This, to me, is so openly and blatantly wrong. Yet we are complicit through omission and silence,” Syed Saddiq, 29, told journalist Tom Wright during a podcast for the YouTube series “Where is Jho Low ?”, which shares insights into Low’s possible hiding places.
Former Wall Street Journal reporters Wright and Bradley Hope co-authored Billion Dollar Whale , which traced the involvement of Low – the eponymous “whale” – in looting billions of dollars from the 1MDB state fund.
They have since launched Project Brazen, an investigative journalism outfit which, among other things, is tracking Low’s whereabouts. Previous podcasts revealed Low was allegedly spotted in Shanghai Disneyland and luxury hotels in the city.
“We were one of the only democracies which was able to review the multibillion-dollar contracts with the Chinese government,” Syed Saddiq said. “However, one deal, which still has not been secured, is to bring back Jho Low.”
The contracts include projects under Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative , such as the 81 billion ringgit (US$ 25 billion) East Coast Rail Link project which the administration under former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad was able to renegotiate down to 50 billion ringgit in 2019.
The discrepancy in cost was due to a “secret mission” in 2016 by then-Prime Minister Najib Razak and Low to get Beijing to help pay for 1MDB funds they stole, according to Najib’s special officer Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin, the star witness in the ongoing 1MDB trials.
Amhari said Najib and Low offered China contracts for infrastructure projects at an inflated price, including one for the equally ambitious high-speed rail connection between Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, some 1,400km away.
While Amhari represented the Malaysian government on paper, he said Low handled the actual negotiations. “I was worried about being involved directly in Najib and Low Taek Jho’s plan to cover up the loss of 1MDB funds,” Amhari said.
Wright, who mentioned these deals in earlier podcasts, said they could be why some people in Malaysia and China wanted to keep Low hidden.
“He’s going to start talking about all the corruption that he was involved in and would probably rope in some more people,” Wright said.
Syed Saddiq, who was part of Mahathir’s cabinet in 2018, said he was “truly frustrated” by these business dealings and they were the reason why it was hard to push for any serious action against Low.
While the Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan coalition won the historic 2018 general election pledging to bring down all perpetrators of the racket, four years later, Najib remains the sole high-profile figure to be jailed .
Yeo Jiawei, a former wealth manager of Swiss bank BSI, was jailed in 2017 by a Singapore court while two former Goldman Sachs employees are currently awaiting sentencing in the United States following court cases implicating them in the scandal. Others, including Low, remain at large.
In response to renewed interest in Low’s whereabouts since Wright and Hope started their crowdsourcing campaign in late August, Malaysia’s police chief said none of the Interpol member countries had confirmed his whereabouts, making it impossible for Low to be extradited.
“Efforts to track Low are still ongoing and all the information received regarding his whereabouts in foreign countries have been investigated by police including using channels of cooperation with the authorities in those countries,” Inspector General of Police Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said last week.
Syed Saddiq, however, pointed out that former Attorney General Apandi Ali was in communication with Low’s team as recently as May when the fugitive offered 1.5 billion ringgit to the Malaysian government to settle the charges against him.
Low was charged in absentia in 2018 with eight counts of money laundering totalling over some US$261 million, most of which went to the purchase of his superyacht Equanimity.
Apandi is infamous for exonerating Najib from any wrongdoing in the 1MDB scandal, having been appointed after his predecessor was removed from office as he was preparing to arrest the disgraced prime minister in 2015.
Apandi was sacked after the 2018 election.
“The least they could do is to haul up the former attorney general, who has opened up the lines of communication with Jho Low’s team,” Syed Saddiq said, adding that Apandi played a “shadowy role” in the negotiations ultimately rejected by Malaysia.
Syed Saddiq said getting Low back to Malaysia would provide “closure and greater understanding” of the web of systemic corruption, which has pilfered billions from public coffers that left Malaysia in massive generational debt.
“Fellow Malaysians must understand that getting Jho Low back is not about revenge, and putting one person behind bars,” he said.
Instead, it will send a clear signal to the international community that while Malaysia welcomes investments and “huge infrastructure projects”, it is not a country which can easily be corruptible for one’s own personal interests.
Beijing has previously dismissed claims of harbouring Low, saying “China does not and will never shelter foreign criminals”.