A very good book, with lots of incredible details and revelations on the dark side of the world of the super rich, and how money really makes the world go round. When someone has too much money, especially money has not earned by himself, he will give no qualm about splurging it on all sorts of vanity stuffs. Parties. Luxury shopping trips. Gambles. Condos and mansions. Music. Movies. And the list goes on and on…
The book was written by 2 investigative journalists, so it has a very distinct writing style. It’s a colossal collection of investigative journalism output, not a novel piece or a biography volume. Therefore, it’s full of details, and often goes quite deep in how Jho Low built his schemes and stole money off from the 1MDB fund. It was not a thrilling read, but an informative one. Sometimes, a bit too informative, but it’s worth the effort to cover a scandal of that unimaginable scale.
One thing that laid bare in the book is the level of corruption in the world as a whole, and in South East Asia and Middle East in particular. Najib Razak, the former prime minister of Malaysia, basically gave Jho full control of billions of public money in 1MDB without even caring where the money went and how it was spent, as long as it helped further his political plans and career. As for the Middle Eastern governments, the Saudi Arabian prince Turki easily and happily sold his name in return for the kickbacks from Jho, and the controllers of Aabar and IPIC were royal Abu Dhabi family who had no care of what really happened in the fund, as long as the luxurious properties and boats are all paid for. Back to Najib, when the fund was collapsing and the scandal was unfolding, threatening to destroy his whole political future, he became a strong man, a dictator of sort, who went all in the save it and block the truth from going out, even to the extent of threats and blackmailing and murder. Although justice has finally been served, and the truth is out in the end, it was not without suffering and only because some brave people just didn’t give up.
Another dirty truth that was revealed in the wake of the scandal is the enormous level of greed of Wall Street. “Greed is Good”, Jordan Belfort once said. But good for who. Definitely not for the taxpayers of those poor countries. At Wall Street banks, money can open doors, and executives are blinded by profits, turning their blind eyes to all moral, ethical and even legal concerns. And they have a reason to do so. It has been proven time and again that, they would be easily let off without much consequence. Maybe a fine, but it’s not their money, and in the end the profits outweigh the cost. As for the investment bankers brokering those controversial deals, it’s fat pay check, huge bonus and meteoric rise up the corporate ladder, at little risk or legal consequence, so why not go for the fun ride?
Throughout the whole incident, once again it’s shown loud and clear that “Money makes the world go round”. And when it comes to millions of dollars, the world really goes much faster, as all opposition voices are quickly silenced, and all doors are opened at a blink of an eye. It also shows that the global financial system is deeply flawed and inadequately governed. Despite all the efforts to counter money laundering or ensure compliance, there are still huge cracks that perpetrators can easily squeeze through time and again, and special pipes through which billions of dollars can flow through easily and without much resistance. It remains to be seen if those cracks will be filled and those pipes will be clogged, but as long as the whole system is not overhauled, and the decision is still driven by greed, there is not much chance for a significant improvement.
Another dirty secret that got revealed in this saga is the vanity of Hollywood. It has long been perceived as a marvellous, mystical, mysterious world, charming and seductive yet impenetrable, but Jho Low proved otherwise. With his money, he managed to infiltrate Hollywood, and install himself among A-Listers. His luxurious, crazy parties where he basically burnt money everywhere (not literally, but the amount he spent on those parties could be more than enough to burn for a long time), attracted more and more stars and celebrities in their midst, including rich kids like Paris Hilton or superstars like Leonardo Di Caprio. That proved once again that, with enough money, nothing is beyond reach. Paris Hilton went straight from being stranger to exceptionally close with Jho Low through those champagne filled parties, generous attendance fees and expensive gifts. Same for Jamie Fox and other musicians, artists and movie starts. He could even get a supermodel, Miranda Kerr, for a girlfriend, of course at the very steep price of 8 million USD in jewelries. However, as relationships could be bought with money, they also quickly vanished soon after money was gone. And that was another sad truth about the world of Hollywood, where things came and passed quickly, and friendship was based on mutual benefit, not respect or trust or shared values.
After finishing the book, an overwhelming sadness descended on me. If it is so easy for a nobody like Jho Low, with just some connections for a start, to be able to steal billions of dollar from a government controlled public fund, what will happen to the financial system? And how many more Jho Low will we see in the future? Until now, he is still at large, nobody know where he is. Najib will soon be on trial, but the outcome is still unknown. And among all those who have benefited from the stolen money, only few have been detained or facing criminal investigation. What can deter the next Jho Low from appearing out of nowhere. And how can it be prevented? The world is still moving, money is still flowing, and a new window of opportunity for theft is opening up somewhere, waiting to be exploited.
Really, without a significant shift, another Jho Low, another 1MDB, and another financial scandal is not a question of if, but just a question of when, and where.
Some more scandalous photos of Jho Low’s luxurious parties and billionaire lifestyle, the billions that he had but did not earn by himself. (All photo credits belong to the owners, and are not mine).