Locked in a dungeon of the secret police to be interrogated and tortured for 48 days, only to be released to a string of prison sentences amounting to 32 years, strikes against his family and staff and the seizure of his business built up over three decades – Bachar Kiwan says he has paid his price for refusing to cooperate in 1MDB money laundering orchestrated by Jho Low in Kuwait.
Now he has spoken exclusively to Sarawak Report about his falling out with the family of the former Kuwaiti prime minister, Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, replaced late last year.
The dispute was over the family’s business relationship with Jho Low for whom, Kiwan alleges, the Al-Sabahs had agreed to launder billions of dollars in kickbacks provided by the Chinese state company CCCC as ‘commission’ to Malaysia’s then prime minister Najib Razak.
Jho Low, Najib’s notorious proxy in this affair, had set up his relationship with the powerful Al-Sabah family as a perfect front for the cash from around February 2016 and to begin with Bachar Kiwan had assisted in his capacity as the Al-Sabah family’s trusted business handler, a role he says he had performed for several decades.
A major project was embarked on, pulled together by Jho Low, which was presented as an official investment proposal by the Chinese State Silk Road Fund. CCCC and other Chinese companies formed part of the project acting as supposed collaborators in a promised $8 billion infrastructure investment programme in Kuwait.
On the Chinese side Jho had cultivated another powerful relationship with none other than the nephew of President Xi, Xinyuan Liu, who was present in Kuwait with the Al-Sabahs and key Chinese officials at the signing of the alleged Kuwait-Silk Road Partnership in April 2016.
The deal was perhaps reminiscent of the ‘state to state’ partnership signed between Najib and Abu Dhabi. Both ventures, like many of Jho Low’s 1MDB related gambits, appear to have proven to be largely empty facades behind which huge sums went missing.
Bachar Kiwan says he had facilitated the process working with his multiple business partner, Sheikh Sabah Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah (Sheikh Sabah) who was the eldest son of the prime minister.
He agreed to process the ‘commissions’ which Jho Low explained would amount to a staggering US$3 billion payable by CCCC to Najib in return for major contracts in Malaysia at inflated costs. A Kuwait company largely owned by Kiwan in which Sheikh Sabah had a minority share, Komoros Gulf General Trading & Contracting Company, was set up as the vehicle to receive the money with an account opened in the newly established Kuwait branch of the Chinese ICBC Bank [see our earlier exclusive report].
However, once CCCC started to send the kickbacks under the guise of these Silk Road investments in September 2016, Jho Low indicated he wanted to then channel several payments, including millions owed to western law firms, through Bachar Kiwan’s prominent Al Waseet group of companies instead.
The reason was that Al Waseet had a more credible profile to be making multi-million dollar payments that might trigger anti-money laundering alerts [see our earlier exclusive report].
Kiwan owned 80% of the Al Waseet group and Sheikh Sabah owned 20%. The company was on the point of launching an IPO and Kiwan had recently become aware of Jho Low’s involvement in the burgeoning 1MDB scandal. He therefore refused to put the company at risk.
The lack of cooperation infuriated the by then fugitive Malaysian financier who was struggling to get round a barrage of anti-money laundering measures thrown up against him thanks to the 1MDB investigations. At the time Kiwan says he didn’t see the danger but the row soon saw his fall from grace as one of the emirate’s most successful businessman when Sheikh Sabah likewise turned against him, something he thought could never happen.
Kiwan, who has now escaped to Paris, told Sarawak Report that for almost 3 decades he had acted as the family’s most trusted business collaborator until he was supplanted by Jho Low as a result of the incident. He believes the reason lay with the huge sums the Malaysian had promised to push through Kuwait:
“He [Jho Low] wanted to use my company. It would implicate me, my team, my accountants, my bankers. I could see a huge scandal coming. Up till then I was the commercial arm of the [Al-Sabah] family for 27 years. I facilitated their ‘commissions’ for transactions. I was the guy who had their trust, if anyone came to them they would say “go to see Bachar”. They wanted my feedback on any business contract. I was their ‘black box’ the only guy who witnessed their secret transactions through their years of power. I was the only one allow to assist, give advice and represent them – I was their business and commercial arm”
However, Jho Low now replaced him, says Kiwan, with a Kuwaiti proxy. Till then, he says, the family always relied on foreign advisors to avoid the small world of Kuwaiti gossip (Kiwan is Syrian with French nationality).
To protect Al Waseet Kiwan removed himself from the Malaysian kickback relationship by organising an agreement between himself, Jho Low and Sheikh Sabah whereby he ceded his majority ownership of the Komoros Gulf General Trading & Contracting Company to Sheikh Sabah. By 25th September 2016 450 million yuan (€60m) had already been paid by CCCC into the company’s ICBC Kuwait account, with another two identical payments due the following month.
A week after his exit, Bachar Kiwan says his problems began. A team of known “thugs” from the Al Sabah entourage visited his offices and informed him that his relationship with the Al-Sabah family was over. They accused him of being a ‘traitor’ and said he would ‘pay’.
From that day, he says, he found he and his family and colleagues were followed and put under surveillance. A fellow director of Al Waseet was refused exit at the airport and he discovered that he and five fellow directors had been put on a black list preventing them from departing from Kuwait.
Kiwan says that for the next year he was nevertheless convinced that the situation would be resolved given his long standing position of trust with the powerful leading family. However, despite all his efforts to mediate and defend himself, a barrage of criminal cases started up against him.
“Every two weeks there would be some new allegation brought by Sheikh Sabah. I would be arrested and kept locked up for the maximum four days allowed to be interrogated in the police cells, then set free and charges would be brought. It happened ten times between October 2016 and October 2017 when my first trial came to an end.
These were fabricated charges like ‘occupying my offices illegally’ because Sheikh Sabah owned the building. Another was ‘operating without a printing licence’ even though we are a printing company licensed for many years. The first trial involved an accusation we had forged a board meeting resolution to retire one director and appoint another. It was BS. I owned the company there was no money issue, but one of the directors aligned to Sheikh Sabah claimed his signature was not his. I thought I could rely on the independence of the judge, but he found me guilty of ‘falsification’ of a private company document and sentenced me and fellow directors to five years in jail. The same judge was put in charge of four more such cases and found me guilty each time”.
Till the day he was found guilty of the first charge on October 3rd 2017 Kiwan says he had been sure he would find a resolution to his problems. Now he says he regrets he did not flee Kuwait much earlier. Immediately following the conviction by the judge Kiwan says he was snatched by the secret police and incarcerated in a windowless dungeon for 48 days of interrogation and torture.
“At first I thought this was the jail sentence and what five years of prison would be like but then I understood it was the secret police and I thought I would be eliminated. It was the most horrible experience of my life. I was not allowed to see a lawyer or my family. They said “here you don’t have rights you are a traitor a terrorist, this is a state security issue”. They accused me of financing terror in Syria. It’s about inventing fake ideas to destroy your self-esteem, your sense of confidence and position in the world.”
Released on 27th December Kiwan was told he had two days to say goodbye to his family before the beginning of his five year sentence. He has provided Sarawak Report with pictures of himself before and after his ordeal (above) and concluded he must flee back to France. With the help of a friend who had a transportation business he hid in a truck crossing over to Iraq. From there Kiwan travelled to Lebanon and then rejoined his family in Paris where he has citizenship.
Meanwhile, back in Kuwait, his brother and driver were arrested and tortured and gave the name of the person who had transported Kiwan to safety. That person has now disappeared says Kiwan and his family have not seen him since. He was himself immediately charged in his absence with ‘people trafficking’ for having managed his own escape and the same judge found him guilty and added ten years to his sentence.
Following the other trials, including one for the defamation of Sheikh Sabah resulting from a counter suit his lawyers had filed as part of his defence, Bachar Kiwan now has a total of 32 years of prison sentences awaiting him. Several of his fellow directors remain in jail in Kuwait having failed to make the same escape.
And Kiwan’s problems did not end there. From Paris he had continued to negotiate for the release of his fellow directors and also a family member who was proceeded against and jailed. He thought he had made some progress when in early 2019 he was promised a ‘Princely pardon’ in return for keeping silent about matters such as 1MDB.
However, the pardon never arrived and later in March 2019 when he travelled to Spain to attend a football event Kiwan found himself arrested at the border thanks to a Red Notice ‘terror alert’ raised secretly by the Kuwaiti government against him with INTERPOL.
He was bailed on condition he remained in Spain whilst he fought the Kuwaiti attempts to extradite him. It was whilst this case proceeded through the Spanish courts for more than nine months the Kuwait prime minister, father of Sheikh Sabah, was surprisingly toppled from his position in November.
Finally, in March of this year Spain ruled successfully in Kiwan’s favour against the extradition request. Even the Spanish prosecutors had agreed together with Kiwan’s defence that he was the victim of political persecution from Kuwait and would have no protection against the abuse of his rights or safety from torture if he was made to return.
In April he at last got back to Paris and finally made up his mind to contact the media with the truth about the Al-Sabah family’s connections to Jho Low, Najib, the Chinese state company kickbacks and 1MDB. He reached out to Sarawak Report.
Now free and back in Paris, with his oppressors removed from power, Bachar Kiwan says he will waste no more time in telling the full truth to the Kuwaiti authorities and also to bring a criminal complaint in KL against those who sought to thieve kickbacks from Malaysia, including Jho Low and Najib Razak.
Bachar Kiwan has now given several interviews and documents to Sarawak Report.
So far, neither Sheikh Sabah, the law firms who represented Jho Low or other recipients of 1MDB connected cash via Sheikh Sabah have answered a request for information, comment or a response on these and related matters by Sarawak Report.
Despite a growing social media storm about the issue in Kuwait, which he says has resulted in threats against him, Kiwan says he will continue with his campaign to free innocent colleagues in Kuwait caught up in this affair and to clear his name and press the Kuwait authorities for justice and an investigation into this corruption issue:
“nine people received judgements against them, today three remain in jail and a fourth has disappeared. Also, hundreds of employees have lost their jobs at my company. As part of the judgement about illegally occupying my offices the judge granted control of my company to the 20% shareholder, Sheikh Sabah, so he replaced the directors and many of my staff had to leave without compensation.
This is not about me versus a business partner it has been between me and the state of Kuwait. I faced prosecutors, secret police, judges, the whole State of Kuwait was put against me on behalf of these powerful people”.
[More documents relating to the Bachar Kiwan case:
Doc 1 – Bachar Kiwan to the French Embassy December 2018
Doc 2 – Bachar Kiwan’s money laundering complaint to the kuwait authorities
Doc 3 – Central Bank Complaint 2016
Next story: Sarawak Report will reveal the secret beneficial owner of the Cayman Islands-based Silk Road Southeast Asia Real Estate Ltd, to which former Malaysian Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng confirmed 1MDB lands in Ayer Itam in Penang were “surreptitiously” sold for RM2.7 billion. The company never sought to assert its ownership of the land in what was described as a ‘classic money laundering operation‘.