June 7, 2018 / 4:52 AM / 8 months ago

Whereabouts unknown,'Jho Low' offers to assist Malaysia's 1MDB-linked probe

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Elusive financier Low Taek Jho, wanted for questioning in a massive corruption probe focused on Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak, has offered to assist investigators, his spokesman said on Thursday.

Foliage partly covers a 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) billboard at the funds flagship Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 3, 2015. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Empowered by a new government elected last month, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has relaunched a probe into why $10.6 million (£8 million) from SRC International, a former unit of 1Malaysian Development Bhd, was transferred into Najib’s bank account.

The amount is tiny compared with the billions of dollars that went missing from 1MDB, but the transfers from SRC were made through Malaysian entities making them easier for investigators to trace.

Anti-graft agents have questioned both Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor, in the wake of his shock defeat in an election on May 9.

Low, popularly known as Jho Low, was regarded as close to Najib and his family and is regarded as a central figure in the 1MDB affair, having allegedly advised on investments and negotiated deals although he never held any official role in the fund.

The whereabouts of the portly, 37-year-old ethnic Chinese Malaysian has been a mystery since the scandal first erupted three years ago, though he has released statements at various times denying any culpability.

Prior to the scandal, Low had courted publicity by throwing parties attended by A-list Hollywood stars, famous models and celebrities.

The latest statement, issued by an international law firm quoted an unnamed spokesman and omitted any information on Low’s location, but said he was ready to help the MACC with its inquiries having read media reports that the agency wanted to speak to him.

“Following this, Mr Low immediately instructed his lawyers to make contact with the MACC today with respect to offering such assistance,” the spokesperson said, in a statement emailed by Kobre & Kim, a lawfirm with offices in the United States, Britain, the Caribbean and Asia.

Najib founded 1MDB in the early years of his near decade-long rule of Malaysia, and has consistently denied any wrongdoing at the fund.

The MACC had earlier issued a notice asking Low and one other person, SRC International director Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil Nik Othman Arif Kamil, to contact the agency immediately to assist in its investigation.

“The MACC urges anyone who has information or knows both individuals to contact the investigating officer...or the nearest MACC office,” the commission said.

Scandalised by the scale of the alleged corruption, Malaysians dumped Najib out of office on May 9 in an election that also spelt an end to six decades of unbroken rule by a multi-ethnic coalition led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

The new government led by 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, who came out of retirement, quit UMNO, and joined the opposition to topple Najib, has vowed to get 1MDB’s money back and punish whoever looted the fund.

One of Mahathir’s first acts was to bar Najib and his wife from leaving Malaysia, and police have raided apartments linked to the former first couple.

The money trail from 1MDB has led to investigations in half a dozen countries, including the United States where the Department of Justice (DoJ) has made it the biggest probe launched under its anti-kleptocracy programme.

Low has been named along with Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz in civil lawsuits filed by the DoJ, which alleged that about $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB.

Filings by the DoJ also alleged that Low had used funds stolen from 1MDB to arrange for the purchase of nearly $30 million worth of jewelry, including a rare 22-carat diamond set in a necklace, for Najib’s wife.

The DoJ is seeking to seize about $1.7 billion worth of 1MDB-linked assets, including a $250 million super-yacht said to have been purchased by Low. It is also pursuing a criminal probe.

Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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