PETALING JAYA - Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak knew that 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) was being used as a political slush fund but was disengaged from its day-to-day operations, news portal Coconuts reported citing Tom Wright, the author of the Billion Dollar Whale.
In an interview with Coconuts editor-in-chief Chad Williams, Wright said while he doesn't think Najib is blameless, he believes fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, or better known as Jho Low, was running the show.
"I'm sure he (Najib) knew it was a political slush fund, that they were getting hundreds of millions of dollars for (former ruling political party) Umno, and that his family was getting mansions and running film companies and all this kind of thing, which he may have just seen as a benefit of being prime minister.
"Terribly corrupt. Not saying it's not. But did Najib know that Jho Low had run the fund in a way that took out US$4.5bil, US$5bil, maybe US$6bil dollars? I don't think so.
"I think he was disengaged from the day-to-day processes in a way that Jho Low was not. Jho Low was running the show," he said.
The Billion Dollar Whale, written by The Wall Street Journal's Wright and Bradley Hope, is a book about their work exposing the 1MDB scandal.
Wright in the interview claimed that Jho Low was the "pupper master" in the scandal.
"A lot of reporting we did for this was triangulation. We would have some investigative documents from Switzerland, some from Malaysia, some from the United States.
"We'd have some from Singapore, we'd have our own documents that we pulled from the British Virgin Islands, and we would start to see patterns where Jho Low was always in control, of everything. He was the centre of the spider web," Wright claimed.
In the interview, Wright also said that amidst all Low's extravagant spending, he was shocked that Low had the audacity to buy the Equanimity yacht when the media in Malaysia was starting to raise questions about the sovereign wealth fund.
"Any sort of conservative, rationale thief would be filling the hole, right? But he doesn't fill the hole, he gets a new loan from Deutsche Bank, and he uses part of it to buy that yacht," Wright claimed.
He added that while they were writing the book to figure out what Low's bigger "game plan" was, he said he discovered that Low never had a one to fill the holes or to make the business sustainable".
Wright added that Low had instead taken the opportunity to "buy the next thing", as he had felt that he was untouchable due to his closeness to Najib.
He claimed that those who were close to Low, who were involved in 1MDB, such as 1MDB executive director Casey Tang and 1MDB legal counsel Jasmine Loo had "some kind of personal loyalty" to Low.
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On Low's whereabouts, Wright lamented at Hong Kong's rule of law where its police had failed to take action against a fugitive who was under the international red notice by the Interpol.
Low has repeatedly denied all the accusations and proclaimed his innocence.
Lawyers representing him are reportedly trying to prevent bookshops worldwide from carrying Billion Dollar Whale.
The book is set for release worldwide on Sept 18.