The sale of fugitive financier Low Taek Jho’s superyacht Equanimity, one of the most opulent vessels ever built, for the equivalent of US$126 million from the Malaysian government is raising questions in Kuala Lumpur.
The yacht, built in 2014 at an estimated cost of US$250 million stolen from the government-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd, had been languishing at a Port Klang dock for months while the government searched for buyers. The vessel was captured last August without Jho Low, as the portly young tycoon was known. With the threat of confiscation looming from the US Justice Department, the yacht made a half-year run for it on the high seas, with the crew turning off its transponders, which send radio location signals, to slide unobserved from port to port, appearing off New Zealand, then South Korea, Phuket and finally Bali, where investigators ran it down.
A London-based source said the vessel was hard to market, partly because of its notoriety at the epicenter of one of the world’s biggest financial scandals, and partly because anybody rich enough to buy it – think Russian mafia or Middle Eastern oil potentates – would prefer to build to his own tastes rather than Jho Low’s flamboyant penchants. (see pictures below)
Jho Low, wanted in both Malaysia and the United States, issued a statement through his lawyers accusing the government of selling it illegally, saying it still belongs to the Cayman Islands entity that it is registered to. His lawyers said the superyacht had been sold at a “bargain-basement sale price” that was “the final chapter in yet another tale of the (Malaysian) regime’s incompetence and disregard for the rule of law.”
The yacht, according to the statement, was illegally seized from Indonesia and “docked in a hazardous environment at Port Klang,” which eroded its value.
Why would the rubber-to-palm oil-to-cruise ships-to gaming-to property conglomerate Genting Malaysia pay that much for the 91.5 meter yacht? The answer seems to be that Genting is doing national service and, according to sources in Kuala Lumpur, paying back some of the enormous profit it received in the 2012 sale of aging powerplants to 1MDB.
With the flailing investment fund desperate to acquire any kind of asset to generate cash flow after Jho Low had simply stolen billions of dollars, it turned to Tanjong, owned by a close government crony, Ananda Khrishnan, and to Genting, which is also close to the government, to buy two major generating plants – Tanjong Energy and Genting Power (M). Critics at the time pointed out that the plants were nearly two decades old and nearing the end of their government contracts.
The plant, Genting’s only power generation asset in the country, commenced commercial operations in 1995. 1MDB’s incompetent management is said to have overpaid Genting by RM1.2 billion (US$293.4 million at current exchange rates) for the energy facilities, according to critics in Kuala Lumpur.
The acquisition of Equanimity, a source said, thus unofficially returns RM515 million to the government on the overpayment for the power units. Equanimity thus becomes a kind of loss leader. It has been running up a bill of RM2 million a month while the government sought a buyer.
Genting is one of the world’s biggest cruise and resort operators through its Hong Kong holding company, operating Crystal Cruises, headquartered in Los Angeles, Star Cruises, headquartered in Hong Kong, and Dream Cruises, headquartered in Guangzhou.
Genting, established in 1965 by ethnic Chinese tycoon Lim Goh Tong with a license to operate a huge casino in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands in mountains east of Kuala Lumpur – in a majority Muslim country where gambling is verboten -- has always been close to the government. Genting employs 62,000 people worldwide and operates casinos and other gaming operations in the United States, Latin America, Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and United Kingdom.
According to gossip in Kuala Lumpur, Equanimity, with its crew of 28 and its phenomenally opulent trappings, will be made available to the highest of the high rollers who patronize Genting’s casinos across the world, cruising the Asian seas.
What they get is a ride on a vessel of truly astonishing excess. It was advertised by Burgess, the brokers who put it on sale before Genting bought it directly from the government, as featuring a deck-level Jacuzzi, a sauna, helicopter pad, swimming pool, beach club, beauty salon, zero-speed stabilizers, gym, spa, elevator, movie theatre, tender garage, swimming platform, air conditioning, steam room, Turkish bath, beauty salon, underwater lights and owner’s stateroom study.
It can accommodate 18 to 22 guests in 9 or 11 staterooms. According to the book The Billion Dollar Whale, by Wall Street Journal reporters, Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, Jho Low supervised the construction himself, sparing no details, ordering some of the world’s rarest woods, even seeking the world’s finest mattresses for the staterooms.
Launched in the Netherlands in 2014, Equanimity was the first superyacht to be built to the new PYC standard. Her twin 4,828hp diesel engines propel her to a top speed of 19.5 knots. When trimmed back to her cruising speed of 16 knots, Equanimity boasts a globetrotting range, thanks to her total fuel capacity of 271,000 liters, which helped to keep her out of government hands for months before officials caught up with her.
They have not caught up with Jho Low, however, who is believed to be in hiding in China, and is believed to still have plenty of money to spend from the US$4.8 billion believed to be missing from Malaysia.
These pictures are courtesy of the Burgess yacht brokers. Click to zoom and view each photo:
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