Malaysian fugitive Jho Low, a man of international intrigue, has been popping up in the news again a lot lately.
The 41-year-old is known for profiting handsomely (in the billions) from the 1MDB Scandal in which the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund was systematically embezzled, and for his many high-profile celebrity connections.
But being connected to Low comes with a high price, as at least one celebrity is finding out.
It's believed Low was the embezzlement mastermind, moving the 1MDB funds internationally through shell companies and offshore accounts. He's been a fugitive from US, Singapore, and Malaysian authorities since 2016, and it's believed he has been taking shelter and running businesses in China for several years now.
On January 18, The Edge Markets outlet reported that "Fugitive financier Low Taek Jho's (Jho Low) days as a protected asset of the Chinese intelligence service may be numbered."
According to the report, China was looking to expand its influence and make big bucks in Malaysia, and Low was tapped to convince former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to allow it to happen. In exchange, Najib received funds to help cover up the money missing from 1MDB and to help his re-election campaign.
However, when Najib lost his bid for re-election in 2018, "Jho Low went from a strategic intelligence asset to a liability." Supposedly, Chinese authorities are getting ready to hand Jho Low and his assets over to Malaysia, although there is still some concern about what secrets he has learned—China would definitely want assurance that Malaysia will keep him away from any FBI agents … who have been busying interrogating Low's Hollywood friends.
Reports from early March detail how Leonardo DiCaprio was questioned by the FBI over his ties to the famous fugitive. It was revealed that Low invested USD 100,000 for the making of the 2013 DiCaprio hit Wolf of Wall Street and showered the actor with luxury gifts. The two remained close until 1MDB allegations started to emerge in 2018.
Before that, they were in talks to form a USD 1 billion filmmaking fund, build a DiCaprio-themed amusement park in Asia, and develop an eco-friendly resort in Belize. However, the New York Times reported in 2018 that the actor handed the lavish gifts, including a USD 9 million painting, over to authorities when allegations against Low began to surface.
DiCaprio told the FBI that behind Low stood the "whale of whales"—an unknown financial backer from Abu Dhabi. Low was also known as the "Mozart of the business world," DiCaprio testified.
DiCaprio wasn't the only hot shot who drew the attention of the FBI. The Bureau also interviewed Kim Kardashian, who once walked away from a night of gambling in Vegas with Low with a trash bag of full of USD 250,000 worth of USD 100 bills, according to FBI documents.
The friendship between Kardashian and her ex-husband Kanye West lasted several years and involved Monet paintings, a white Ferrari, and a concert on a yacht in Italy for which Kanye was paid USD 1,250,000.
And the same reports that reveal that DiCaprio and Kardashian were questioned also reveal that another celebrity is not only being questioned about his connection to Low, but is in hot water himself.
Pras Michél, one-third of the legendary hip-hop group the Fugees, is considered by the Feds to be a foreign agent, stemming from his own friendship with Low, which began in 2011. For Low, Pras was more than just another celebrity friend, but a man with a wealth of connections in politics, entertainment, and finance. The Feds say Low sent USD 21 million to Pras, who then donated USD 2 million of it to Obama's reelection campaign. The Malaysian refugee ended up getting invited to an Obama White House party, but failed to ultimately secure the political cover he was seeking.
The well-connected Pras was then tapped to put together a crack team to get Low some influence in the Trump administration as the new president was taking power, to try to get the US to drop its investigation of Low. Low was also interested in getting Guo Wengui, a real estate billionaire living in New York who had a penchant for scandalous claims about China, deported to China. Pras even managed to get China to release a pregnant US citizen it was holding, but the US refused to give up Guo.
Wanting to understand where the problem lied, Pras contacted the FBI himself, essentially outing himself and others as working for Chinese interests. The rapper even convinced a DOJ employee to visit the Chinese embassy about the matter, which obviously set off alarm bells.
When the US began to squeeze Low's associates, many took plea deals, but not Pras, who doesn't believe he was guilty of anything. In 2021, he was charged with ten offenses ranging from conspiracy to witness tampering and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. If found guilty on all counts, he could face up to 22 years in prison.
His trial began in late March in Washington.
Jho Low’s life reads like a Hollywood movie, or an episode of The Blacklist: high-stakes crimes, seemingly endless stacks of cash, political maneuvering, life on the run, and all-night parties with A-list friends.
But those A-list friends are cutting and running, and while Low remains free (at least for the time being), Pras just might find himself behind bars.