KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 17 — In the first audio recordings of Jho Low published in the media, Malaysia’s most wanted man claimed that more than US$1 billion (RM4.11 billion in today’s exchange rate) that ended up in Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s private bank accounts came from 1MDB and was not part of the generous donations from Saudi Arabia’s royal family.
The fugitive said the much talked about “donation” by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was only a “small portion” of money compared to the sum siphoned from the Malaysian sovereign fund — corroborating the view held by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in international reports after the scandal broke.
"The reality is, it is true that King Abdullah actually agreed to give [a] donation to the PM but that was the small portion of a larger portion,” Low was quoted saying by Doha-based news agency Al Jazeera in its report of the audio clips published late last night.
The clips were said to be of recorded phone calls that took place between May and November 2018 — after the Pakatan Harapan coalition took power in the May general election of that year.
Low had also during the recorded conversations claimed the Abu Dhabi government was complicit in wrongdoings related to 1MDB.
“The reality is, Abu Dhabi people did take money.
“The discussion I left off with them is, look, whatever I settle with the DoJ that is used to pay 1MDB bonds, you should all match the same amount, which is probably close to US$1 billion,” he was quoted saying.
The Penang-born, whose full name is Low Taek Jho, has been on the run from Malaysian and Singaporean authorities for the past five years and has been seeking to bargain his way to freedom after the fall of the Najib government in 2018.
The report from Al Jazeera based on the audio recordings, if genuine, would be the first time the world has publicly heard Low’s voice in conversation since the 1MDB scandal emerged.
In the Al Jazeera report, Low also claimed that 1MDB money was spent on jewellery for Najib’s wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor and was “north of half a billion dollars”, adding that the final sum “was a huge amount” without disclosing the figure.
Low, who is on two International Criminal Organisation’s (Interpol) Red Notices and with a warrant for his arrest in the US, had in the recordings also discussed possible meet-ups with government representatives either in Hong Kong or Macau.
However, a day before the scheduled meeting, Low was recorded informing his contact that he had flown to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) instead.
“Because of the whole warrant of arrest, you know, effectively the UAE folks didn’t think it was safe, so I [have] just gotten into Dubai; [UAE are] ultra-paranoid now, so I think it’s going to be challenging for me to get any clearance to meet,” he was quoted saying.
Al Jazeera cited flight records showing Low’s travel footprint included moving from Bangkok to Dubai via India as recent as November 2019 on a privately chartered flight, using yet another passport issued by the Carribean nation of Grenada.
Low has been reported holding several passports including from Cyprus and St Kitts, apart from his Malaysian one. While these passports had been cancelled following the Interpol wanted notice, Al Jazeera reported that he was able to continue his globe trekking adventures due to “high-level government assistance” though without naming the country or countries involved.
The Qatari news agency cited Bill McMurry, a former FBI special agent who led the 1MDB investigation from 2015 until recently and is now with a private company called 5 Stones Intelligence.
Al Jazeera also said its sources in Malaysia and Macau confirmed that Low has been living in a house owned by a senior member of the Chinese Communist Party in Macau since at least February 2018.
Low had attempted to strike a bargain with representatives of the PH government back in 2018, a point that has already been disclosed by Tun Daim Zainuddin in September that year.
Daim who was a member of the PH government’s advisory Council of Eminent Persons, said Low had telephoned him as early as June to negotiate his immunity from prosecution over the 1MDB scandal.
Daim who had acted as then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir’s economic adviser said he had rebuffed Low’s negotiation attempts, telling the latter to speak to an unnamed representative instead.
According to the Al Jazeera tapes, Low threw his former associates and alleged co-conspirators under the bus, outright declaring that he truly believed he had done nothing wrong in the 1MDB case.
Low suggested the cash he obtained were mere loans from 1MDB to fund his costly lifestyle.
“I don’t believe there’s any wrongdoing.
“All these ultimately were loans, directly or indirectly, but, ultimately, I think the time has come, we want to assist in repatriating these assets back in return for cooperating and moving on with life without, you know, being prosecuted,” Low was quoted saying by Al Jazeera.
The Penangite, who had several times in the recordings claimed to be in China, placed the blame squarely on Najib who was at that time Malaysia’s prime minister and finance minister and had the final say in all of 1MDB dealings.
“I have no authority to make any decision... It’s a pretty known fact that... all the approvals have to be approved by the minister of finance,” Low was quoted saying.