Money talks, and free champagne talks even louder, apparently.
As Malaysian financier Jho Low reportedly looted billions from a state fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), intended to develop his country, the list of guests at his parties has grown increasingly dazzling. It depends Billion Dollar Whale, a new book in which Wall Street Journal reporters Tom Wright and Bradley Hope chronicle one of the most audacious corruption heists of all time. The celebrities on nearly every page play a huge part in the unreal, cinematic quality of the book – almost as important as the jaw-dropping details of the scam itself.
Published by Hachette in the United States today (September 18), the book has already been released in Malaysia, where bookstores run fast outside of that. Many believe Wright and Hope’s revelations about the fund, published since 2015, played a key role in angering the public against Najib Razak’s government, leading to its surprise election defeat in May.
On a newly launched website, Low said he was innocent of any crime and planned to tell “the real story” of the 1MDB fund. A statement on his behalf released yesterday (September 17) complained that “the narrative is designed to allow authors to write about celebrities, models and parties, without ever proving any of the allegations…Billion Dollar Whale is guilty by lifestyle.”
Here is a glimpse of this lifestyle of Billion Dollar Whale.
Hilton started dating Low in 2009, the year 1MDB was established as a state fund. In November of the same year, she was taken by Low in a rented private jet for a ski trip to Whistler, a Canadian ski resort. Low, the book says, had fantasized about Hilton since he was at Wharton University and contacted his manager earlier that year to arrange for him to come to his parties. Friends of hers say the hotel heiress received about $100,000 per event.
The two seem to have become friends of sorts. On his 29th birthday the following year, at a party in Venetian’s TAO nightclub in Las Vegas, Low gave her a Cartier watch and gave her $250,000 in gambling chips so they could play baccarat together. They weren’t just partying in America.
That year, in Saint-Tropez, “a maze-like medieval old town… where the world’s richest 0.1% live,” they hung out at the Les Caves du Roy nightclub, every inch of which square is apparently covered with gold. Low had a bidding war with a scion of a New York real estate family over who could pay the most for Cristal champagne – and “won” to the tune of 2 million euros ($2.3 million). dollars). Hilton opened a bottle and sprayed it on Low and the others in celebration.
File this one under life imitates art imitates life imitates… or just Google an image of a snake eating its tail. DiCaprio starred in the wolf of Wall Street, the 2013 film directed by Martin Scorsese based on the memoir of hustler Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who pleaded guilty to fraud and later became a motivational speaker. It was financed by a fledgling production company, Red Granite Pictures, one of whose founders, Riza Aziz, was the son-in-law of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib, while the other was Joey McFarland, a little-known producer who linked up with Bas on the party circuit.
Like Hilton, DiCaprio appears to have entered Low’s orbit a decade ago, when the actor had just filmed for shutter island. For DiCaprio’s 38th birthday in 2012, as the buzz around the wolf of Wall Street began, Low and Aziz presented him with the Marlon Brando Best Actor Oscar statuette for At the water’s edge– purchased from a Hollywood memorabilia dealer for $600,000. (He had disappeared from Brando’s house years earlier.)
In a story full of extraordinary detail, the fact that a film about financial misdeeds and over-the-top parties was made possible by 1MDB’s financial misdeeds and relationships forged at the parties it paid for manages to stand out. DiCaprio seems rather oblivious in the book, doling down endless rounds of champagne with Low while having this prepared statement about the movie:
It’s an indictment of Wall Street. But it’s an indictment of something that’s in our culture, this relentless need to consume and this relentless need to get more and more wealth in complete disregard of anyone but yourself.
Recently divorced from actor Orlando Bloom, Australian supermodel Kerr showed up in a ball gown to a dinner party in Manhattan’s Koreatown hosted by Low in early 2014, and soon the two were discussing how she could promote its new skin care line KORA Organics. One of the highest paid models in the world, she was nevertheless trying to become an entrepreneur. Soon, the two fell in love. However, they kept their relationship a secret, and Kerr’s agent chaperoned them when they dated. For Valentine’s Day that year, he gave her a $1.3 million diamond necklace bearing his initials.
For Kerr’s 31st birthday, he threw a party at Chelsea Piers and hired Salt-N-Pepa and Vanilla ice cream to perform. In July 2014, Low took her sailing for 10 days around Italy and the Greek island of Corfu on his yacht Equanimity, where he celebrated her with elaborate meals and gifts of jewelry.
Kimora Lee Simmons
On a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, the fashion entrepreneur and former model found herself seated in business class next to Tim Leissner (paywall), the Goldman Sachs banker who helped 1MDB raise millions in bond issues and thus earned his employer extraordinary fees. They started by arguing over the spare seat between them, but at the end of the four-hour flight that Leissner had offered her. While they were dating, she accompanied Leissner to Malaysia, and she tweeted about her experiences hanging out with the country’s First Lady, Rosmah Mansor.
Before Kerr, Low honed his extravagant, yet cheesy flirtatious skills on Taiwanese singer Elva Hsiao. In 2010, he took her on a million-dollar date at Atlantis, The Palm, a hotel on Dubai’s man-made Palm Jumeirah island. Low had arranged candles to be placed in the shape of a heart on the beach, and their names spelled out in lights. Later, during dinner, a blond musician serenaded them on a jeweled violin, before two men in tuxedos parachuted from a helicopter to present Hsiao with a necklace of diamonds and gold.
Foxx was among the many stars of what was perhaps Low’s most extravagant party, his 31st birthday in November 2012. He was also part of a crew that did a double countdown to New Year’s Eve in 2013 , thanks to a private jet Low chartered for a group of friends that also included DiCaprio and Jonah Hill (co-starring DiCaprio in the wolf of Wall Street). They partied in Sydney, then returned to the United States to catch the stroke of midnight again. Speaking later on a UK talk show about it, he said:
I have a friend, you know he got some money, and he flew me, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and some other cats, and we flew to Australia. And we did the countdown in Australia, then we hopped on a plane and then we did the countdown in Vegas. It’s crazy! It was crazy!
Low’s Hong Kong-based investment firm, Jynwel Capital, the vehicle he used to invest $100 million in EMI Music Publishing, brought him closer to many music stars. He was non-executive chairman of EMI for Asia and a member of its advisory board. The purchase might have gone to his head – when Low bumped into Busta Rhymes while recording a vanity song at Jungle City Studios in Chelsea, he shouted, “Yo! I own you. You are my female dog!”
Kasseem Dean, aka Swizz Beatz, and Alicia Keys
Music producer Dean and his wife Keys both went to Low’s parties and became close with him. For his efforts that made Low’s 31st birthday a success, Swizz Beatz was awarded $800,000. The couple also earned $4 million from Low’s efforts to help Hsiao with an album to launch his music career in the United States.
Dean, originally from the Bronx, was extremely ambitious and hoped to become a music mogul, perhaps with some help from Low. He, in turn, was something of a guide for Low into the world of music stars and, as an avid collector of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, into the world of art collecting. Low began spending tens of millions on art, including $9 million for a work by Basquiat.
A former member of hip-hop trio Fugees, along with Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean, Michél hoped to reinvent himself as a private equity investor, again with help from Low. He was also part of the inner circle who partied with Low in the President’s Suites at the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas ($25,000 a night) for the Malaysian’s 31st birthday.
Low’s parties were never subtle, but this November night took it to another level. It involved a star-studded guest list, circus performers, airport-style searches, and non-disclosure agreements for guests. He also saw Britney Spears jumping out of a cake to serenade Low with “Happy Birthday”.
Even Robin Leach, columnist of the 1980s extravaganza as the host of the TV show Lifestyles of the rich and famous, was seduced – here is his story about it for the Las Vegas sun newspaper.