By reaching out to his established conduits at Singapore’s Straits Times this week the fugitive Malaysian Jho Low sent out some intriguing signals. It raises the question as to whether Malaysia’s prosecutors ought to now consider cutting a deal with the youth who acted as the former prime minister’s gofer at 1MDB for so many years?
Doubtless the prevailing view is that the evidence is overwhelming against Najib and that Jho Low deserves stern punishment for so eagerly working on behalf of his “Big Boss”, whilst cashing in on the lifestyle produced by Malaysia’s stolen billions. On the other hand, the nation might be saved the expense of months of court time if this key witness was cut some slack in order to nail the bigger fish.
Tim Leissner has done such a deal in the United States, where prosecutors habitually dole out lesser sentences to lowly snitches who deliver all important evidence. By contrast, in an apparent confident belief that Jho Low will stay hidden away rather than face his own share of the music, Najib’s entire defence has been based on laughably blaming the whole government-orchestrated scam on the former PM/FM’s absent errand boy.
That strategy would be immediately undone were Jho to decide to wipe his own slate clean, in return for a manageable punishment and a chance to make a better stab at the second half of his working life – as a free man. Could that be why he reached out to his long-standing conduit in the media (the Malaysian correspondent of the Straits Times) to make the crucial point that he was never more than an ‘intermediary’ in the management of the billion dollar thefts on behalf of his Big Boss and wife, who were wholly in charge of the government of Malaysia at the time?
Jho Low’s concern he would be made a fall guy goes right back to the very first days following Sarawak Report’s original expose in February 2015 over the role of his company Good Star Limited and 1MDB joint venture partner, PetroSaudi, in funnelling out early billions from the development fund.
Giving an interview to the magazine Euromoney in Hong Kong before he went into hiding the following month the young entrepreneur made clear he feared he would be landed with all the blame – effectively admitting the scam which Najib at the time was refusing to do. Those UMNO guys were masters of spin he claimed when it came to offloading and he was sure that he would be the ‘Chinaman’ who would get all the blame:
““There are all these guys with their arrows out on me. There seems to be a very, very coordinated attempt to say: ‘This young Chinaman, it’s all his fault, he caused the failure of 1MDB and apparently he advised the PM and everything is screwed up now’.”
Jho Low was not innocent; he did advise Najib and much of the outcome was his fault. However, it is correct that he did not make the ultimate decisions, he was not the responsible party nor was he the only person to cream off billions. Indeed, it seems obvious that Jho was merely the front man for the ownership of much of the booty bought with 1MDB money, including those yachts, businesses and mansions placed in his name.
Today The Edge newspaper questioned why he would have been so easily willing to hand over a billion dollars worth of such assets to the authorities in the United States if he had legitimately acquired them? It is a good point and worth bearing in mind that Jho Low would have been all the less desirous of hanging on to such assets if he was only babysitting them anyway – for a Big Boss who has long since ceased to protect him!
Right there, during that very first interview with Euromoney, Jho Low made the key points about the power structures and management of 1MDB that showed exactly who was really pulling the strings and making the decisions about stealing billions of dollars worth of borrowed Malaysian money – points that the rest of the world took many months to fully understand before the truth about the structure of the fund was finally teased out in the face of obstruction and cover-up on the part of Big Boss Najib Razak.
This what Jho Low alerted his interviewer Eric Ellis to as he sought to make clear to the world that attempts to shove all the blame on his young shoulders as a mere advisor were patently ridiculous – he stated from the start that it was Najib who was the sole shareholder and decision-maker at the fund.
Everything at 1MDB had to be agreed to and signed off by the Big Boss, who is now seeking to deny in court that the signatures were his:
““It’s so frustrating,” he says. “I’ve never faced this kind of attack from all directions. Its just crazy, and these UMNO guys are spinmasters, they know all this sort of nonsense.”
He continues: “All these guys go round and round and round and I say: ‘Guys, it’s very simple, there’s a board, who’s the shareholder?’ Have you ever seen one statement from anyone that talks about the simple governance of a company?
“Are you telling me the prime minister doesn’t make his own decisions? That the ministry, the minister of finance, who is the prime minister – and there are only two to three people in the finance ministry that sign off on shareholder resolutions under law – that none of them… that they just signed without evaluating it?”
Low is on a roll now: “Did the people supposed to be responsible for decision-making (at 1MDB) suddenly decide to absolve all their responsibilities and then create this PR campaign with me as the focus of it? “No one seems to ask the question who is the ultimate decision-maker on 1MDB? No one asks that. No one ever asks about the shareholder’s role.” [Euromoney – Jho Low Says It ain’t so]
As Najib has sought to convince the Malaysian High Court of his frankly unbelievable tale that he was hoodwinked into signing billions of dollars of public money into his own account by a young boy advisor on the fund, how refreshingly clear, obvious, straightforward and consistent Jho Low’s explanation has by contrast been!
Yet, as the months rolled on in 2015, Jho and Najib clearly decided to shelve the blame game and work together to attempt to bury 1MDB.
Their first cover-up strategy, as copious evidence provided by whistleblower Xavier Justo subsequently brought to light, involved pinning the blame on him and Sarawak Report for making up the entire theft. Jho Low (who had by this time fled Malaysia, but was still travelling the world on Cypriot and St Kitts & Nevis passports) liaised with PetroSaudi directors Patrick Mahony and Tarek Obaid in setting up Justo.
They brought Najib’s powerful regional political influence to bear on Thailand also as they accused the Swiss businessman of a ‘blackmail plot’ to publish ‘false information’ about the PetroSaudi/ Good Star deals that siphoned US$1.83 billion from 1MDB.
Once Justo had been arrested it was made clear to him by Mahony that PetroSaudi needed him to sign a bogus confession blaming himself and Sarawak Report for making up a ‘false story’ and ‘forging documents’ about 1MDB. This Xavier Justo did so in return for a promise that such cooperation would set him free.
At this point texts by Mahony obtained by Xavier’s wife Laura Justo provide telling information. Mahony had a key contact in the Singapore Straits Times, he bragged in a text, who could arrange to get a credible interview published with Xavier from his jail cell in which they could put out all the messages the conspirators needed to promote the cover up story of an alleged ‘plot’ to topple Najib by the ‘false’ exposure of 1MDB.
That contact arranged for a reporter in Bangkok to apply to the jail to get the ‘scoop’. As Xavier Justo has later testified, he was first briefed by Mahony’s team, including a former British policeman named Paul Finnegan who produced a question and answer sheet of 50 questions he should rehearse for his interview with Nirmal Gosh of the Straits Times.
The Edge have challenged the Straits Times (who rewarded Nirmal Gosh with a post in Washington after the paper won an award for its ‘exclusive’) over why they failed to mention that Finnegan attended the interview in Justo’s jail cell, whilst his lawyer was absent:
According to Justo .. Nirmal had interviewed him in the presence of Finnegan. Lawyer Worasit was not in the room. It was just Justo, Nirmal and Finnegan.
“Mr Mahony left before the arrival of the journalist from The Straits Times and, during the interview, I was alone with the journalist and Mr Paul Finnegan. This interview lasted for around 30 minutes. They left the prison together after the interview was finished,” Justo said in an email to us.
“I was specifically instructed to blame myself, Mr Tong and Clare Rewcastle, as well as the Malaysian opposition, and [to] never ever mention [Low Taek Jho] or Mr Najib Razak. I also had to declare that the data could have been tampered with, and that this was done for political reasons. I also had to say that I was sorry, and that I did that only for the money and that I was very well treated in prison. I had a few hours to be prepared on what to answer to [Nirmal’s] questions. I did what I was told to do.”
In return for this interview and a signed confession, Justo had been promised a swift release by Patrick Mahony – a promise the PetroSaudi director appears to have had no intention of honouring were it possible. However, the Straits Times article went a long way towards securing what Najib, PetroSaudi and Jho Low plainly hoped would cover-up the truth behind 1MDB.
The dynamics behind that hollow promise to Xavier Justo were soon to emerge in a number of conversations recorded between Laura Justo and Patrick Mahony (Sarawak Report later obtained them).
When the distraught wife started to demand why her husband had not yet been released as promised in return for cooperating with the interview with the Straits Times Mahony’s response was revealing. The couple needed to do more to reassure the prime minister who was behind this strategy Mahony said:
Laura Justo: I just want the answer, when is X going to come out?
Patrick Mahony: I told you last night who was controlling this. I am going to have a meeting with him in the next few days, this guy has an ultimate nightmare that Xavier could turn on him if he gets out. This is his position at the moment.
Laura: So what do I say to Xavier –you told me December?
Patrick: This guy is still stressed it’s his political career on the line, he’s in deep shit and that’s all he thinks about.
Laura: so what do I say?
Patrick: The only way I can show him you are on his side (a team player) is if you are ready to put yourself in the media –you must denounce all the people that are making conspiracies against him
Laura: What guarantees?
Patrick: Look, for the moment this guy doesn’t know you and your are the enemy–I am not going to lie to you –you can help or not help.
Laura: You told me he would be out in December
Patrick: I didn’t promise… I;m going to do everthing I can, but I never promisedL: Laura: We both thought you did.
Patrick: I’m still living shit every day because of you. I know he is in prison and you are alone with the kid, we are all in deep shit. I toldyou the other day. I am in deep shit and a Prime Minister of a country is in deep shit because of this…..”
[Sarawak Report interview with Laura Justo 2016]
The Malaysian correspondent of Straits Times and his bosses will, of course, declare their sources to be sacred and defend their information, despite having been used to shaft colleagues who have striven to truthfully report on 1MDB. It is better to protect those rights than trample on them, especially since the truth is anyway revealed.
Few believe that Jho Low has escaped to the Middle East. If China was caught in an embarrassing position having played ball with Najib, so was Abu Dhabi.
However, if Jho Low has any cards left in his hand, it is his ability to assist his home country as it wrangles with such players. Possibly, he has decided to play for a deal in return for a reduced punishment? In which case, Leslie Lopez of the Straits Times might have yet again emerged as the man to turn to?