KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 15 — Lawyers representing fugitive financier Low Taek Jho are seeking to dissuade bookshops from carrying a book detailing his alleged role in the 1MDB corruption scandal with threats of defamation lawsuits.
The book Billion Dollar Whale by Wall Street Journal’s Tom Wright and Bradley Hope are due for a global release on September 18, but early editions have already found their way to such news outlets as Bloomberg.
According to The Guardian website, a law firm acting for the billionaire also known as Jho Low has already launched legal action against the book’s publisher and the authors in a bid to stop further distribution.
Letters were also sent to book distributors and independent chains worldwide warning them against carrying the title over claims that its contents were likely to “seriously defamatory”.
“It is troubling to us to hear reports of booksellers being threatened or attempts to keep the public from reading a book,” publishers Hachette was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
“Hope and Wright are journalists of the highest calibre and we stand by the book. It will be available in bookstores — in many countries — on Tuesday.”
Wright will be in Kuala Lumpur on September 25 to promote the book at the Kinokuniya bookstore in KLCC.
In 2013, the UK amended its defamation laws to discourage aggrieved parties from pursuing booksellers if it is possible to target the distributors or the authors, but Low’s lawyers are reportedly pursuing stores over their synopses of the book as a workaround to this restriction.
Schillings, the law firm representing Low and which The Guardian billed as specialists in libel, reportedly demanded written undertakings from stores not to sell the book as well as compensation for Low’s legal costs on threat of further action.
Similar warnings were also sent by other law firms representing Low in other parts of the world.
One literary source said the threats were sure to dissuade bookstores in the UK from carrying the title due to the country’s libel laws, which are among the most severe in the world.
“This is surprising, concerning and sets a terrible precedent,” Robert Sharp of English PEN, the free speech campaign group, told The Guardian.
He said the legal warnings effectively circumvented the relaxation of libel laws intended in the UK, and would put “booksellers in an impossible position”.
Low remains wanted in Malaysia where he has outstanding arrest warrants issued to the police and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission over his alleged role in the 1MDB scandal.
He steadfastly denies any wrongdoing in relation to the state investment firm, insisting his involvement ended with the Terengganu Investment Authority prior to its rebranding as 1MDB by former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.