Monday 17 September 2018

Malaysian fugitive Jho Low takes a leaf from Jamilah Taib’s playbook

Lawyers for Low Taek Jho (known as Jho Low), a Malaysian financier who is now wanted by Interpol in connection with the massive 1Malaysia Development Bh (1MDB) scandal, have launched a website in his defense, with the language and tactics almost identical to those used by Ottawa-headquartered Sakto Corp and its Chair, Jamilah Taib, who are fighting back against allegations that Ms. Taib laundered funds coming from her father, the Malaysian politician and alleged kleptocrat Abdul Taib Mahmud.
Low Taek Jho (Jho Low) is on the run from Interpol

Proclaiming his innocence, Jho Low laments the publication of Billion Dollar Whale, an account of the 1MDB scandal written by Wall Street Journal reporters Tom Wright and Bradley Hope. Jho Low writes of Billion Dollar Whale that: “Many of the allegations have originated from blog posts, improper leaks from within Governmental agencies around the world, or unproven allegations filed in court.”

In describing the tactics used by Lukas Straumann – the executive director of Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF), a Swiss NGO which is now facing a gag order from Jamilah Taib and Sakto Corp in civil court in Switzerland – Ms. Taib’s lawyers similarly write that BMF and Mr. Straumann: “Make aggressive use of social media, multiple websites and blogs to create the impression that their allegations of money laundering are valid and widely accepted.”

Jho Low’s London-based libel lawyers have sent threatening letters to booksellers in the UK in an effort to block distribution of Billion Dollar Whale. In much the same way, Taib Mahmud’s legal representatives in London, Mishcon de Reya, attempted to stop the publication in 2015 of Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia, by Lukas Straumann, which alleges that Jamilah Taib financed Sakto Corporation, at least in part, from her father's connections to unethical logging practices in Malaysia. 

(Taib Mahmud has admitted to giving his eldest daughter money to purchase land in Canada, but claims it came from a "gratuity" upon his resignation from the federal government.)

There is also much similarity in how the two successful Malaysian business people describe themselves. Jho Low refers to himself as a "global philanthropist, investor and entrepreneur," and on her Twitter profile Jamilah Taib says she is a “businesswoman, global citizen and philanthropist.”

However, there are some notable and important differences here. Jho Low is an international fugitive, whereas Jamilah Taib has never been charged with any crime, despite attempts by BMF to engage authorities in Australia, Canada, Germany, the United States, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

That said, the use of law firms to engage in PR is a function of the evolving counter-spin employed by affluent clients to protect their reputations, something that is increasingly common as global anti-corruption campaigns ramp up. For its part, Sakto’s Ottawa-based lawyers, noticia LLP, are using as their platform

The structure of the website – i.e. financed by Sakto, and using the law firm noticia LLP – was initially unclear. Now is fully transparent, and does a good job of presenting Sakto’s case, though in its efforts to assert the “true facts” (sic) noticia LLP has strayed somewhat, becoming more aggressive in its tactics against BMF. These include asking rhetorical questions with regard to Lukas Straumann’s communication to BMF’s Board, and whether or not Mr. Straumann has been transparent and accountable with regard to his use of BMF funds. 

Specific to Ms. Taib, while she is still active in Ottawa’s social and philanthropic circles, her profile as Chair of Sakto is low key. Despite being the owner and Chair of the corporation, her name appears nowhere on Sakto's website, which instead promotes the role of her husband, Sean Murray, who acts as president and CEO. Likewise, her personal webpage is no longer active, and her name appears nowhere on

But Ms. Taib is the central figure here. As the daughter of Abdul Taib Mahmud, she qualifies under Canadian law as a Politically Expose Person(PEP). All of the unproven allegations of money laundering, specifically as outlined in the BMF-funded report Safe Haven Canada, have her as the nexus. Despite’s exclusive emphasis on Sakto Corporation, the defamation suit in Switzerland specifically names her along with her husband Sean Murray.

With regard to the fugitive Jho Low, it appears that he’s hiding out somewhere where he believes he’s beyond the reach of the law. He has a passport for St. Kitts & Nevis, an island country in the Caribbean, which has an active and popular Citizenship by Investment Programme. Some have speculated that he might be there, or even floating around in international waters.

But he can’t float forever, and St. Kitts & Nevis might not provide sufficient cover. The island country’s Interpol National Central Bureau (NCB) is part of the RSCNPF’s Intelligence Department – Special Branch. As well, St. Kitts & Nevis has an extradition treaty with the United States (1996), and a mutual legal assistance treaty in (1997).

Still, St. Kitts & Nevis is in the business of selling passports – one reason why it’s popular with well-heeled clients of questionable character. Last year, the United States Department of State Money Laundering Assessment Report deemed St. Kitts and Nevis a “Jurisdiction of Concern”.

Specifically, in its report the Department of State wrote that “St. Kitts and Nevis derives a significant portion of its revenue from its program offering citizenship through investment (CIP); however, this program’s prior lax vetting created AML [e.g. ‘anti-money laundering’] and security vulnerabilities domestically and internationally.”

Worryingly, the country has “no guidelines to provide law enforcement the authority to conduct an investigation based on a foreign request for assistance.”

Meanwhile, Jho Low continues to conduct his counter-campaign against “allegations disguised as fact and gossip passed off as legitimate reporting” from his undisclosed location. And Jamilah Taib – or perhaps only her representatives – will soon be making similar arguments in a Swiss court.

La politica has written extensively on this topic, and will continue to do so. Below is a list of related posts:

Ashbury alumnus and son of Taib Mahmud ordered to pay $9.4 to ex wife (October 16, 2018).

Tips are always welcome at lapoliticaeslapolitica[at]gmail[dot]com.

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