Posted by Mildred LIANG Bei Yan, Year 4 undergrad at the School of Economics, Singapore Management University
Jho Low and the Wolf of Wall Street: how Malaysian businessman ‘hooked up DiCaprio’
Thursday, 12 March, 2015, 2:01pm
Toh Han Shih
The movie “Wolf of Wall Street” had Leonardo DiCaprio in the starring role and high-living Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho played a part in making it happen.In an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post, Low revealed that it was he who introduced DiCaprio to Red Granite Pictures, a US film production company whose co-founder and chairman is Riza Aziz, a stepson of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and a son of Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor.
This led to DiCaprio playing Jordan Belfort, the lead character in the movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, which was produced by Red Granite.
“The irony is amazing” that Low, who is alleged to have committed financial fraud, was involved in a movie about financial fraud, said a Malaysian analyst. Low has denied the allegations.
Sam Tsang “I’ve known Leo for many years and through the Jynwel Foundation, we are actively involved in environmental conservation projects around the world” said Low, who was born in Penang, Malaysia, in November 1981 but has lived in Hong Kong since 2010.
From the bucolic island resort of Penang, Low grew up to become man-about-town in New York and London, parlaying big deals and partying with the rich, powerful and beautiful. DiCaprio was just one of many Hollywood friends he made along the way. Others included hotel chain heir Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.
In 2012, after the Low family took a “substantial, but non-controlling stake” in EMI Music Publishing, one of the world’s leading music publishers in 2012, Low also become friends with numerous artists such as Alicia Keys.
Breaking his silence on his alleged role in the troubled Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, Low agreed to be interviewed at his office in Central, a posh marble-clad interior with several sliding doors, evoking an aura of mystery. One of the doors slid open silently, and he emerged, in a sharp black suit — a stark picture of contrast from online images of him partying in black V-neck tees and Hollywood stars draped all over his sweaty arms.
The movie “Wolf of Wall Street” had Leonardo DiCaprio in the starring role. “I’m good friends with Riza,” Low admitted, adding that he has known Riza for 16 years since Low studied at the prestigious school Harrow in the UK while Riza studied at a nearby school.
“Through Riza, I met his parents,” Low said.
Low’s spokesperson denied allegations that he has acted as a business front man for Najib or his wife, and insisted that his dealings with Riza were limited to the the real estate transactions conducted “at arm’s length fair market value.”
The spokesperson confirmed media reports that his family had bought prime real estate in New York and Los Angeles for an estimated US$42 million, and later sold it to Riza for a hefty profit.
The New York Post reported that Low once bought 23 bottles of champagne for US actress and singer Lindsay Lohan at a bar in New York for her 23rd birthday. Low lived at a US$100,000-a-month apartment in the Park Imperial, on West 56th Street, in New York, home to James Bond actor Daniel Craig and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, reported the New York Post.
Low admitted, “I went out and had a bit too much fun.”
After his heady days of expensive partying, his grandfather and father lectured him in their native Chiuchow dialect, he recalled. “They told me I got carried away, and I should have my head firmly on my shoulders.”
Hong Kong corporate records indicate he lives in the upmarket district of Midlevels in Hong Kong. A Hong Kong property website advertised a 2,370 square foot apartment near to his address at a rental rate of HK$100,000 per month.
Low insisted that neither he nor his family had ever been involved in unethical monies made directly from the Malaysian government, and his grandfather and father had been wealthy in their own right.
Low’s grandfather, Low Meng Tak, was born near Puning city in Guangdong province, and made his fortune in liquor and mining in Thailand in the 1960s. As a result, the grandfather had been donating money to his hometown in Guangdong since the 1960s. Low’s father, Low Hock Peng, made money from investing in real estate including hotels in New Zealand in the 1990s.
In early May 2009, Low, who was then only 28, made a personal fortune of US$116 million by selling off his investment in real estate in the Iskandar project in Johor, Malaysia, his spokesperson said. In 2008, a consortium led by Mubadala Development Company invested US$1.2 billion in real estate in Iskandar, which was the first Middle Eastern investment in Iskandar, while Low co-invested and partnered Mubadala.
‘I’ve nothing to hide’: Malaysia’s Jho Low breaks silence to deny money laundering allegations
Analyst says wealth fund probe is ‘potentially the biggest financial scandal in Malaysian history’
Written by: Toh Han Shih on 12 March
A well-connected Malaysian caught in the cross-hairs of an investigation into troubled Malaysian state-owned investment company, 1MDB, linked to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, has been residing in Hong Kong for the past five years and has come out to deny any wrongdoing in an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post.
Low Taek Jho, chief executive officer of Jynwel Capital, a Hong Kong investment advisory company, has denied all allegations of money laundering and fraud against him, claiming they are politically motivated, in a saga that analysts say could erupt into potentially Malaysia’s biggest financial scandal since the 1990s.
“I feel I’m a victim of the cross-fire of Malaysian politics, which is getting more polarised. I’m a target,” Low told the Post from his office in Hong Kong.
“Business decisions by 1MDB are ultimately decided and approved in accordance to their corporate governance framework, which is the management, board and shareholder. So why politicise and try to blame it all on me when I have no decision-making authority?” he said.
“If the Malaysian authorities ask me to assist with their investigations, I’m happy to cooperate. I’ve nothing to hide. I believe in the rule of law. As of today, I’m not under investigation. I’ve never done anything illegal,” Low said.
The main opposition alliance, Pakatan Rakyat, has called on the Malaysian authorities to investigate Low for suspected money laundering in the acquisition of a Malaysian firm, UBG, using funds from 1MDB. Malaysia’s National Audit Department has begun an investigation into 1MDB, following a cabinet directive last week, Malaysian Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang confirmed to media.
“This is potentially the biggest financial scandal in Malaysian history,” said a Malaysian analyst, citing the state-owned firm’s huge debts.
1MDB, which comes under Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance, has 42 billion Ringgit (HK$87.8 billion) of debt. In February, 1MDB bonds effectively declined to junk status, when investors demanded a 441 basis point premium over similar securities.
“Some leading Malaysian financial institutions will not touch 1MDB with a long pole. Some officials at leading Malaysian financial institutions have expressed their reservations about 1MDB in private,” the analyst said.
Najib, who is also Malaysia’s finance minister and chairman of the board of advisers of 1MDB, said there will be no cover-up if any person is found to have committed fraud related to 1MDB, reported Singapore’s The Straits Times on March 9. Chang Zhenming, chairman and president of Citic Group, a major Chinese state-owned enterprise listed in Hong Kong, is also an advisor to 1MDB, according to 1MDB’s website.
Whistleblower website Sarawak Report alleged that Low orchestrated a joint venture between 1MDB and PetroSaudi International, a Saudi Arabian company, to siphon off US$700 million (HK5.4 billion) from 1MDB. Both Low and PetroSaudi International denied the allegation.
The website also claimed that Low was the mastermind behind 1MDB, although he has no official position in the company.
In his interview with the Post, Low denied he was the mastermind of 1MDB, saying: “I’m not hired by 1MDB and I don’t get paid any fees by 1MDB. If someone in 1MDB asked me for my views informally, I will give my views like any other Malaysian.”
Low’s spokesperson confirmed that up till mid-May 2009, he helped to set up Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA), along with institutions like Goldman Sachs, McKinsey Consulting and Boston Consulting Group. TIA, which was initially controlled by the Malaysian state Terengganu, later became 1MDB after June 2009, which was controlled by the Malaysian Ministry of Finance.
In 2010, Low moved from Malaysia to Hong Kong. He established Jynwel Capital in Hong Kong on 19 November 2010, according to Hong Kong corporate records.
Jynwel Capital, a Hong Kong-registered company, is wholly owned by a British Virgin Islands company by the same name, according to Hong Kong corporate records. Hong Kong corporate records show Jynwel Capital’s paid-up capital increased from HK$189.26 million in November 2011 to HK$390.89 million in November 2014.
During the interview, Low admitted to living the high life in the past in New York and other global cities but that he was more circumspect about hitting the spotlight these days, after advice from his elders.
He also said he made his own money early on in his investing career and his father and grandfather – from Guangdong – made their own fortune. Low studied in the elite school Harrow in England and later obtained a Bachelor’s degree in economics from the prestigious Wharton business school in University of Pennsylvania in the United States.