The US$250-million super-yacht Equanimity, which led international authorities on a high-seas chase across half the world before it was seized by Indonesian authorities in February, is expected to be turned over to Malaysia at Port Klang’s Boustead Cruise Center, according to authorities.
Equanimity, launched in 2013 in a Netherlands shipyard, was the brainchild of the youthful financier Low Taek Jho, who at age 28 helped former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak turn an obscure investment fund into 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which became the biggest scandal in Malaysian history, with US$4.5 billion missing to scandal and billions more lost to epic mismanagement.
Najib is now free on bail facing corruption charges, maintaining his innocence, although he is barred from leaving the country. The cherubic Jho Low, as the Penang-born Wharton grad was known in his playboy days, is nowhere to be found, although one source in Hong Kong with ties to the intelligence committee said he may be in Taiwan. He is listed on Wikipedia as having a fortune estimated at US$1.5 billion.
Jho Low’s lawyer, James F. Haggerty, said in a prepared release that the seizure of the vessel was “a violation of an Indonesian law and court decision by a politically motivated Malaysian government bent on advancing its own political agenda with little regard to existing court rulings or basic legal rights.”
Equanimity, Haggerty said, is owned by Equanimity (Cayman) Ltd and the company was already litigating the matter in Indonesia and the United States. In April, a US judge ruled the yacht could be transported to the US and into the Justice Department’s custody. However, that ruling has never been carried out.
“Mahathir has chosen to bring the asset illegally into a rigged Malaysian system manipulated by a man who only cares about his absolute political rule. It is ultimately justice that suffers,” the statement said.
Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, the head of the Democratic Action Party, said the vessel would be auctioned off.
News reports in July had Jho Low fleeing Macau, which has been a bolt-hole on several occasions, for China in front of a series of search warrants issued across the planet over his part in the 1MDB scandal. Malaysian police on July 9 said Macau authorities informed them by email that Low had left the gaming enclave
“The e-mail did not specify when Low left Macau,” Malaysian National Police Chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun told reporters on July 11. “It is hard to trace him as he is believed to be using multiple passports.”
The US Justice Department, which called 1MDB the biggest kleptocracy case in the agency’s history, had been trying to find the yacht since 2016 to add it to the vast list of confiscations it had made in the United States of goodies bought with stolen 1MDB money. Equanimity’s crew turned off the transponders which would allow it to beam its position to satellites and sought waters where G-men couldn’t go, turning up sometimes in New Zealand, sometimes in Macau, sometimes off Korea.
But eventually it turned up in Bali, where the US alerted Indonesian authorities. Jakarta’s notoriously corrupt South District Court blocked the Justice Department’s move to seize the vessel, raising concerns that it might take to the high seas again.
But when the United Malays National Organization and Najib lost the May 9 general election, the game was up. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced on Aug. 6 in a Facebook post that that “we are happy since the Equanimity yacht has been handed over to us by Indonesia.
The 90-meter yacht is said in yachting magazines to feature 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 room, underwater lights and owner’s stateroom study, sleeps 26. Registered in the Cayman Islands, it was at the center of a truly astonishing burst of excess by Jho Low, his Arab Gulf buddies and the Najib family that raised questions how they ever thought they would get away with it.
The fund got underway in 2008. A couple of years later, Jho Low turned up in New York, buying magnums of Cristal Champagne and pouring it over the likes of Paris Hilton and other blondes. He buddied up with singer Lionel Ritchie and, with Arab friends who turned out to be heavily involved in fleecing 1MDB, staged a moveable feast across Broadway, making the notorious Page 6 of the New York Post, where celebrities go to be photographed.
Vast collections of jewelry, homes in New York and Beverly Hills, airplanes, paintings, a staggering panoply of loot has been sequestered by the US government, including the proceeds from two movies by the production company set up by Riza Aziz, the son by a previous marriage of Rosmah Mansor, Najib’s wife.
Although Malaysia authorities confiscated an astonishing US$193-233 million in jewelry, watches, handbags and other valuables from the Najib family’s homes, as much as RMB100 billion (US$24.8 billion) of funds linked to Najib and his wife, Rosmah are stashed in bank accounts outside Malaysia, according to a source quoted by Sarawak Report, which said much of that money is believed to be in Hong Kong bank accounts, after having travelled through German and Swiss banks.
That leaves the question of what’s become of Jho Low himself. It’s hard to believe Chinese authorities will have much patience with him.
Mahathir thanked Indonesian President Joko Widodo for his cooperation in returning the vessel. Mahathir visited Jakarta in June. Ties between Malaysia and Indonesia are close with Mahathir visiting Jakarta in June, his first official tour of the region.