TOM WRIGHT

Prestige (Malaysia) - - Contents -

Co-au­thor of Bil­lion Dol­lar Whale shares the book’s in­spi­ra­tion

Dig­ging deep into the colour­ful life of fugi­tive fi­nancier Jho Low and pen­ning an ar­rest­ing read, co-au­thor of Bil­lionDol­lar

Whale, Tom Wright, re­futes claims that his all-re­veal­ing book ab­solves for­mer pre­mier Dato’ Sri Najib Razak of blame in the scan­dalous 1MDB saga, writes justin ng “Well ev­ery­one has read the PdF,” Tom Wright quips as he ad­dresses the at­ten­dees at the launch of Bil­lion Dol­lar Whale, a best­selling tell-all book on 1MDB which he co-au­thored with fel­low Wall Street Jour­nal jour­nal­ist Bradley Hope, held at Books Ki­noku­niya. The PDF he refers to is a leaked copy of the book widely cir­cu­lated on­line, partly fu­elled by the mis­cal­cu­la­tion by the dis­trib­u­tor, es­pe­cially here in Malaysia, where pa­per­backs have been emp­tied from the shelves by pi­ous bib­lio­philes the mo­ment they ap­pear.

In at­ten­dance, be­sides the me­dia, are the pre­em­i­nent news­mak­ers – Tan Sri Rafi­dah Aziz, Dato’ Am­biga Sreenevasan, Dr Ong Kian Ming, etc. There is even one per­son who mo­men­tar­ily whips up a ruckus by re­peat­edly rais­ing the ques­tion to Wright to present apo­d­ic­tic ev­i­dence in his book that Najib is guilty of cor­rup­tion. How­ever, he is in­stantly put down by Wright, who ut­ters, “I am not the pros­e­cu­tor.” The man makes a hasty re­treat upon hear­ing Wright’s re­tort.

Bil­lion Dol­lar Whale, among oth­ers, shines the spot­light on Jho Low, a mild-man­nered, ro­tund fi­nancier from Pe­nang who is in­dis­pens­able to the plot. It be­gins by ex­plor­ing Jho Low’s an­ces­try. His grand­fa­ther, an im­mi­grant from China, set­tled down in Pe­nang some­time in the 1960s. His fa­ther, Larry, made mil­lions in lo­cal gar­ment busi­ness. His fam­ily was sol­vent and Jho Low, the youngest of three chil­dren, could at­tend Har­row, a boys-only board­ing school in a sub­urb of Lon­don that bears the same name.

“One of the prob­lems with these huge fi­nan­cial scan­dals like the Panama Pa­pers is that it is very bor­ing to read. You just get pages of pages of money went to this per­son, money went to that per­son, some­body is cor­rupt. There is no nar­ra­tive to the story,” Wright says.

The seed of the story was sown early dur­ing the en­light­en­ing ex­posé on the 1MDB scan­dal run by The Wall Street Jour­nal. The scan­dal re­ver­ber­ates around the world, not least for the al­leged au­da­cious em­bez­zle­ment of funds in a se­ries of shad­owy deal­ings that crossed geo­graph­i­cal bound­aries, partly con­tribut­ing to the sur­prised loss of the Na­ji­bled coali­tion in Malaysia’s lat­est elec­tion, con­fis­ca­tions of as­sets bought with laun­dered funds, in­ves­ti­ga­tions into fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions that aided in fa­cil­i­tat­ing money laun­der­ing, among oth­ers.

To be­deck the story with in­trigue, the au­thors knew they had to de­part from merely link­ing the money trails and sea­soned them with cold hard facts. They needed scenes to help con­jur­ing im­agery in the head, to make it more colour­ful, thrilling like a Stephen King epic. Then as they dis­cov­ered more and more, they be­gan to piece it all to­gether.

“It is re­ally a bi­og­ra­phy of Jho Low, which is the main nar­ra­tive struc­ture. Then there is a bunch of sub-themes – global fi­nance, how he could buy his way into Hol­ly­wood if he had enough money. We worked out all the scenes. For ex­am­ple, we got hold of Red Gran­ite’s emails. In the con­tact book of Red Gran­ite were all the cell phone num­bers of Hol­ly­wood stars and all the cell phone num­bers of play­mates these guys liked to hang around with. So we called 30 Play­boy play­mates,” Wright says.

“Out of the 30 who we called, two of them said, ‘I re­mem­ber Jho Low. We went to his birth­day party at the Palazzo.’ That was re­ally the process of pro­cess­ing scenes, find­ing and get­ting doc­u­ments and ty­ing it to the UAE am­bas­sador to the US, a very im­por­tant fig­ure in Jho Low’s rise. We knew that be­cause of (Yousef Al) Otaiba’s emails. He was in­volved in the

block­ade of Qatar. We had to build up scenes by this kind of re­port­ing. Once we had the scenes and time­line in place, we tried to put them to­gether in a nar­ra­tive.”

Red Gran­ite Pic­tures was co-founded by Najib’s step­son Riza Aziz and it pro­duced the award-win­ning film The Wolf of Wall Street, which iron­i­cally tells the story of a Wall Street stock­bro­ker whose un­scrupu­lous prac­tice landed him in jail. Ac­cord­ing to Wall Street Jour­nal news re­port by Wright and Hope, com­pa­nies con­nected to Otaiba, UAE am­bas­sador to the US, re­ceived US$66 mil­lion from off­shore com­pa­nies that in­ves­ti­ga­tors in the US and Sin­ga­pore said con­tained funds mis­ap­pro­pri­ated from 1MDB.

“What hap­pens here isn’t just a Malaysian story,” Wright says. “Bernie Mad­off took 40 years to lose US$18 bil­lion of in­vestors’ money and he was worth around US$800 mil­lion by the end of his fraud. Jho Low al­legedly took US$700 mil­lion overnight on the first day of the fraud. This was not the money that would have ex­isted if it was not raised on the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket. He had the abil­ity to raise so much money be­cause the in­ter­est rates were so low af­ter the (2008 global) fi­nan­cial cri­sis.”

He opines Najib knew 1MDB was a slush fund by point­ing out that the for­mer pre­mier’s de­fence has al­ways been “I didn’t take it for per­sonal gains” and that in his mind, he took it for UMNO. “But that doesn’t ex­plain the US$27 mil­lion jewel for (Datin Sri) Ros­mah (Man­sor, Najib’s wife), the film com­pany for her son (Riza), the house in Bel­gravia, the house in Cen­tral Park and all these things. But I do think Najib was prob­a­bly shocked when he found out when the US De­part­ment of Jus­tice said US$4.5 bil­lion had gone miss­ing, be­cause I think he wasn’t pay­ing at­ten­tion (and that) he wasn’t run­ning the fund. He al­lowed the (then) 27-year-old who just got out of Whar­ton with no prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence to run a sov­er­eign wealth fund,” Wright says.

The be­lief of Jho Low is the one

“IT IS RE­ALLY A BI­OG­RA­PHY OF JHO LOW, WHICH IS THE MAIN NAR­RA­TIVE STRUC­TURE. THEN THERE IS A BUNCH OF SUBTHEMES”

who has the full pic­ture formed the ba­sis for Bil­lion Dol­lar Whale and the de­ci­sion to have him as the “lead”.

“1MDB and the scan­dal wouldn’t have hap­pened with­out him. He went to Whar­ton. He took a se­mes­ter off. He met Otaiba. He saw what Mubadala (De­vel­op­ment, an Abu Dhabibased state-owned com­pany) was do­ing. He saw how these sov­er­eign wealth funds were hugely pow­er­ful. He wanted to do one in Malaysia. He got the (then) prime min­is­ter to do it. Then he did a se­ries of crazy, un­be­liev­able things, in­clud­ing a Chi­nese state-owned com­pany to do cor­rupt deals and skim­ming more money. So he is a phe­nom­e­nally-in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter. Najib is a lit­tle less so, maybe,” Wright says.

When asked if the book ab­solves Najib of any blame as sug­gested by crit­ics, Wright clar­i­fies, “I don’t think it is right to ab­solve Najib of any blame. He is an en­abler of Jho Low.”

JHO LOW PIC­TURED WITH PARIS HILTON

JOEY MC­FAR­LAND, MAR­GOT ROB­BIE, LEONARDO DICAPRIO & RIZA AZIZ

EQUA­NIM­ITY – A 300FT YACHT BE­LIEVED TO HAVE BEEN AC­QUIREDWITH MIS­AP­PRO­PRI­ATED FUNDS

LEONARDO DICAPRIO STARS AS BELFORTIN THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

TRX’S MASTER DE­VEL­OPER IS FOR­MERLY A SUB­SIDIARY OF 1MDB BE­FORE IT WAS TRANS­FERRED TO THEMIN­ISTRY OF FI­NANCE

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