US preparing to charge Jho Low, says report

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KUALA LUMPUR: US law enforcement authorities are preparing to press criminal charges against Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, in connection with 1Malaysia Development Bhd transactions, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Jho Low could be charged with fraud and money laundering, the report said, quoting people familiar with the US investigations against Jho Low and his associates. Some of his associates might also be charged.

However, the WSJ said, the US’s prosecution plans could change or be dropped as its investigations were still continuing.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) had, last year, instituted civil proceedings against Jho Low and others seeking more than US$1 billion in assets, including luxury real estate in the US and paintings by famous artists, allegedly bought with money stolen from 1MDB.

The WSJ report said a DoJ team recently visited Singapore to interview people related to the case. It added that Singapore was also in the process of building a potential criminal case against Jho Low.

The WSJ said Jho Low, 35, and his lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the report Jho Low struck a confident tone in a New Year’s message to friends this January.

“2016 was the Perfect Storm; but the calmness and resolve of our Captain, led his loyal Sailors who placed their lives with utmost trust in his leadership weathered the storm,” Low had written in a WeChat message viewed by the WSJ.

“The men and women that came out of the storm were not the same men that walk in. Through struggle, they established new strengths they never knew they collectively had,” Jho Low had written.

“The very moment they were brought to their knees, and their world was about to fall apart, their Captain’s exemplary leadership guided them to safety; and through this experience, they achieve a new level of humility, nobility and higher intelligence ready to set sail for greater achievements in 2017 for their people!”

The report said Jho Low had largely disappeared from public view after the US filed its asset-seizure suits.

He has been mainly living in China and Thailand, the WSJ quoted “those familiar with his comings and goings”, as saying.

It added that a staff member at the Peninsula Hotel in Shanghai had said that Jho Low was a long-term resident.

Singapore has charged several people in connection with 1MDB-related money transactions and even closed down the local branches of Falcon Private Bank and BSI Bank. Several other nations are also investigating 1MDB-related transactions made through banks based in those countries.

1MDB had earlier denied any wrongdoing and had pledged to cooperate with investigators.