KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian police said on Wednesday (Nov 6) that fugitive financier Low Taek Jho, accused of a multi-billion dollar theft at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), is attempting to purchase properties in Cyprus under a different name.
Low, also known as Jho Low, has been charged in Malaysia and the United States over the alleged theft of US$4.5 billion from 1MDB, set up by former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Information on Low's efforts to buy real estate in Cyprus was gathered after a series of arrests, Malaysia's police chief Abdul Hamid Bador told a news conference, a video of which was posted on the police's official Facebook page.
"We have made arrests quietly. About three or four weeks ago. From these arrests, we have been able to unravel information saying that Jho Low is making attempts to purchase assets using a name that we don't know in Cyprus," Abdul Hamid said.
The police chief did not say what name Low was using for the transactions.
Low, whose whereabouts is unknown, has denied wrongdoing regarding 1MDB. His spokesman has said Low had been offered asylum in an unidentified country.
Malaysia's state-run news agency Bernama reported on Monday that Abdul Hamid said the government where Low was living has refused to cooperate with efforts to extradite him, but he refrained from naming the country.
But Abdul Hamid clarified that Low was not in the Cyprus islands. "I have told you, it's impossible for him to get out of his hiding place so easily. He is still there hiding like a chicken,” he said without elaborating on the said country.
The police chief added that he was disappointed that requests to repatriate Low from the country were not entertained.
“The issue is that the country's money has been robbed. I'll keep trying ... I'm not giving up. I will continue to give them reasons why they should assist me. This is a criminal issue. It has no strategic or political importance to a country.
"All this while, I have cooperated with the relevant parties in police matters. I was very disappointed when my requests were ignored ... according to the intelligence I have, he is still in the country," he said.
The Politis newspaper reported on Nov 3 that Low had obtained a Cypriot passport through a citizenship-for-investment scheme. The Cypriot newspaper also published an image of the passport, showing that it had been issued in September, 2015, just a few months after the 1MDB scandal erupted into public view.
The passport bore a name in the Greek alphabetic form along with Low's full name in English.
On Tuesday, the head of the Church of Cyprus, Chrysostomos, told a Cypriot news channel, that he had been introduced to Low by a property developer, and that Low had donated 300,000 euros to the church.
"I actually said the archbishopric did not need a donation, but because we had created the seminary I told him if he wished, because other Cypriots had made donations, if he wished, to make the donation to the seminary," Chrysostomos told Cyprus’s Omega TV.
Asked if the Church was considering returning the money, he said : "I don't think he will be coming to ask for the money back."
Last month, the US Justice Department, which made 1MDB the focus of its biggest ever anti-kleptocracy investigation, struck a deal with Low to recoup US$1 billion in funds allegedly looted from the Malaysian state fund. The deal did not include an admission of guilt or wrongdoing and was not tied to the criminal action against Low.
Malaysian prosecutors have argued that Low and Najib were responsible for siphoning billions from 1MDB, some of which went to pay for the lavish lifestyle of Najib's wife, Rosmah Mansor, and bankroll a Hollywood production firm run by Najib's stepson, Riza Aziz.
Cyprus's finance minister acknowledged on Tuesday that some mistakes were made in offering citizenship for investment. Authorities in Cyprus launched a probe after a Reuters investigation published in October revealed that wealthy relatives and allies of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen have been buying foreign citizenship, with eight members of his inner circle receiving Cypriot passports.