One of the intriguing aspects to emerge from the leaks, later confirmed, about recent negotiations between the Malaysian government and lawyers acting for Jho Low is the offer that was reportedly made of a RM1.5 billion payment by the fugitive in return for charges being dropped.
Jho Low was apparently requesting a return of his passport to give him the freedom to travel to sort his affairs and obtain the money. So where would he have secreted such a sum – we are talking about the equivalent of US$350 million that he was offering to pay to the Malaysian ‘authorities’, plus he presumably had in mind a further chunk of money for himself.
There is, of course, the frozen hoard of over a billion dollars in Kuwait – derived partly from money that was purportedly paid by Najib (who claims he was lied to and led by the nose) to a Chinese construction company as a massive up-front deposit on a bogus pipeline project in 2017.
However, it would seem hardly likely the authorities in the Gulf state would be willing to simply hand over that stolen cash to the world’s most famous thief, still in league with his convicted boss Najib and their lying Agent Apandi.
The conclusion has to be, therefore, that there are more accessible sums being carefully curated elsewhere which Jho Low believes he could access once he has his Malaysian passport back.
This would be money or assets that the US authorities have yet to identify for seizure or which he has managed to keep from their clutches some other way. Perhaps these are hidden under trusts or assets whose ownership has been disguised from the unwitting and deceived officials who are holding them in trust?
Might there be a problem that off-shore trust managers and Swiss banks have for too long tended to accept the word of people like Jho Low when it comes to declaring ownership and origin of cash and as a result failed to spot the dirty money on their books until investigators like the FBI come along and point it out?
Could further assets not yet identified by the FBI therefore still be managed under those accounts?
Take, for example, the swathe of trusts and accounts held by Jho Low under the Trust Management arm of the Swiss Rothschild Bank. It is known that before the US authorities came knocking on their door Rothschild Zurich was managing well over 60 separate accounts for the Malaysian fraudster (much as BSI did in Singapore).
Those familiar with such banking suggest that each of those accounts was likely to have facilitated a separate trust representing properties and assets held, for example, in New Zealand which was a popular tax haven often chosen by the Lows to register such devices.
When the FBI identified that many of Jho Low and his family’s businesses funded by thefts from 1MDB were indeed held under Rothschild Trust Management through New Zealand Trusts back in 2016 it certainly caused a stir.
The bank, which seeks to live by its ancient reputation (and also secrecy for its clients) immediately signalled its cooperation with the US investigators and agreed to freeze and surrender up the trusts.
At the same time, and far from coincidentally insiders say, the bank decided to divest its trust businesses entirely. “It [the 1MDB affair] was a massive blow and threat to their reputation and the danger of having trusts that are not held at arms length from a bank is that conflicts will arise” explains one observer from within the sector.
With the Swiss investigators now forced to examine this side of the bank’s operations it was easier, insiders have surmised, to cut the trust business loose entirely in order to present the regulators with a ‘cleaned up operation’.
The result was a ‘management buy out’ of the entire Swiss based trust arm of Rothschild bank that took place in 2019. Senior former staff from Rothschild simply hived off this business, thanks to a loan provided by the bank itself and further support from their original employer, and reconstructed an ‘independent’ entity under the name of Sequent.
In fact, “the two businesses are still completely interwoven”, explains one person in a position to know. Sequent is dependent on the continuing backing guarantee of the bank itself which is what provides customers with reassurance, plus all the custodial services remain outsourced back to Rothschild.
At the same time these damage limitation manoeuvres were taking place in Switzerland the Low family were making their own moves over in New Zealand to counter the surrender of their trusts to the US seizure process.
Thanks to a judgment by one Justice Toogood the Lows were granted permission by the New Zealand courts to ditch Rothschild as their trustees and to appoint a Cayman based trust group run by New Zealanders, namely FFP (Cayman) Limited, which was prepared to contest the freezing of the assets.
All the 25 trusts identified by the FBI as being the product of money laundering were therefore placed under the new custody this off-shore concern.
Perhaps coincidentally, one of the key management figures who had handled the multi-million dollar Jho Low trusts originally for Rothschild also moved on from the hived off Sequent to FFP Cayman Islands.
This was Tia Healey who now commands a senior position at FFP as Director of Fiduciary Services, having in her previous existence jetted the globe to keep up with the needs of the former top Rothschild client’s numerous assets and accounts. As her biography explains:
Prior to joining FFP, Tia was Senior Trust Manager and Co-Head of Administration at Sequent AG’s Zurich office, formerly Rothschild Trust AG. Tia headed a team focused on the administration of trust structures with worldwide holdings in bankable and non-bankable assets, private equity, real estate and art for multi-jurisdictional families and their family offices. While at Rothschild Tia spent some time in their Hong Kong office working with Asian based clients
Having been Jho Low’s trust manager at Rothschild it seems Ms Healey moved with sequential speed to the companies that took over these ‘fiduciary duties’.
FFP eventually failed in its bid to defend the trusts targeted by the US Department of Justice. The asset seizure was confirmed and in October 2019 (just as Healy joined FFP) a settlement was reached to surrender $700 million worth of assets from these trusts.
Criminal charges were then separately filed against Jho Low, together with Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng, for his role in purloining billions of dollars from bonds raised on behalf of 1MDB. Hence, although the assets in question had been settled and surrendered, Jho Low and his family remained firmly on the run.
So, with all this movement of assets and management, could some of Jho Low’s remaining millions still remain in family trusts not identified by the FBI, secreted perhaps under a misleading identity to confuse the changing managements and trustees?
Sarawak Report has sent a query to FFP Cayman Islands to enquire if any attempt has been made to match Jho Low’s 60 plus bank accounts at Rothschilds with matching trusts that might have represented further assets?
After all, the number of trusts seized only amounted to 17 listed trusts representing assets and properties in London, New York, California and Singapore.
Were the remaining assets once held at Rothschild to have now been moved, for example, to protected obscurity beneath the shady palm trees of the notorious tax haven of the Cayman Islands it would make for a perfect place from which an unleashed Jho Low could cash them in.
In the event stringent denials those seeking the rest of 1MDB’s stolen loot should act on the tip off from Jho Low himself that at least RM1.5 billion remains at large. A treasure hunt of off-shore havens is clearly the place to start.