Jho Low’s shopping spree: Global effort needed to recover gifts and assets

Low (centre) pedals a trishaw carrying US rapper Busta Rhymes in George Town on April 19, 2013. — Picture by KE Ooi
Low (centre) pedals a trishaw carrying US rapper Busta Rhymes in George Town on April 19, 2013. — Picture by KE Ooi

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10 — Efforts to recover assets and gifts bought by fugitive financier Jho Low — whose full name is Low Taek Jho — involves half a dozen US federal agencies and a string of contractors and investigators in Switzerland, Luxembourg and Malaysia, a news report said.

According to the article in the New York Times, the massive global recovery effort has been slow because Low has yet to be found and some of the assets are owned by trusts.

Low’s lawyer Robin Rathmell said that Low “does not consider it proper for any government to seize property belonging to the trusts or himself.”

Although assets like paintings by Van Gogh, Picasso and Monet, an Oscar that once belonged to Marlon Brando, and jewellery worth millions were easy enough to retrieve, others like a transparent grand piano, the luxury yacht Equanimity, which was finally recovered in Bali and is now in the hands of the Malaysian government, and a US$35 million (RM145 million) Bombardier jet have been harder to manage.

“The United States government couldn’t let it bob in the water unattended, so it had to pay for a crew,” the report said of the yacht.

The article said this was “one of the largest international kleptocracy cases the United States has ever pursued.”

Of the many assets already highlighted in the numerous news reports about Jho Low, the transparent grand piano is another one that puts US officials in a conundrum.

According to the NYT report, the clear acrylic grand piano was custom-made by The Crystal Music Company in the Netherlands and cost upward of US$1 million.

Low bought the piano for supermodel Miranda Kerr and it sits in her Malibu home today. She has said she is willing to “surrender” the grand piano to authorities (she has already handed over a substantial amount of jewellery that Low gifted her, including a 11.71-carat heart-shaped diamond and a pair of 11-carat diamond earrings) but removing it from her house is posing a problem.

“If you move it, you might damage it, and then you have to restore it,” Michael Case, the asset forfeiture co-ordinator for the United States Marshals Service in Manhattan, was quoted as saying in the NYT story.

This is because the piano cannot fit through the door, the report claimed. When it was first delivered to Kerr’s home, it was placed on an outdoor patio.

The report revealed that when the piano maker complained that this would be bad for the piano, Kerr got contractors to put up walls around the piano... thereby turning the space into another room.