When justice is no longer a decision in your favour

Most people thought they knew all about Low Teck Jho.  On matters of style, for example, they knew he had the best taste money could buy.  

It now turns out that the corpulent conman known as Jho Low to pal and prosecutor alike also kept his cards close to his chest. In those days before the wannabe wrongdoer morphed into the fat fugitive he is now, his regular three-nation tours abroad were assumed to be visits to his money. Now it seems it was not just the US, Switzerland and Singapore that held his assets, it was the United Kingdom as well. 

And, if you thought he only owned realty, art and jewellery think again: he owned a lingerie firm in London as well.  

We know all this because of the US authorities. The London office used by the Malaysian miscreant for his luxury lingerie company is to be sold under a forfeiture claim by the United States because, according to US authorities, the property is one of many acquired with money embezzled from IMDB.

And, as per his wont, nothing was too good for him. 

The office as well as a nearby penthouse and apartment was acquired by the tubby thief in 2010 on Stratton Street in the upscale Mayfair neighbourhood. The bad news for the plump pilferer is that he is likely to surrender those monies to the US and Malaysia. 

But he was an optimist. It could be worse, reflected Fatso philosophically, “I could still have been living there.”

You didn’t have to be a philosopher to figure the reasons why he dived into underwear. 

The ample alumnus of Stanford liked to be brief. His speech was clipped and short. His emails were short and generally coded and even his meetings were kept short to discourage questions. 

It explained his foray into lingerie which his associates knew rhymed with “gingerly”. But the bulky brigand put it differently. “Brevity is the soul of lingerie,” he explained and they knew they were in the presence of The Master. 

The dapper delinquent thought he’d masterfully handled his Stratton offices which were used by Myla, the said lingerie company that Low thought could be leveraged into film and profit seeing how he’d bankrolled Red Granite, a film production firm that had, incredibly, produced at least one award-winning film. The firm was headed by a stepson of Fearless Leader who, unlike his chubby consigliore, was facing the music and not safely ensconced in a country that denied it was China. 

In a 2014 email the plump Penangite sent from his Myla account, he introduced a Red Granite Pictures representative to Myla executives to follow up on “any opportunities for Myla in the movie space.

But Hollywood turned up its nose at “Lost Encounters of a Brief Kind” and, instead, happily agreed to “Dumb and Dumber.”

There was no accounting for some people’s tastes, thought the thick thief tranquilly. 

But life was no longer tranquil and the voluminous villain was belatedly realising that the odds of retaining his overseas assets were sinking faster than his associates could mispronounce “Titanic”. The US had brought thirty forfeiture suits against him and, cumulatively, was seeking real estate, investments, art and jewellery valued at US$1.7billion (RM7.14 billion) that Fatty and his accomplices had bought with their ill-gotten gains. 

He could not go to the US to defend those suits because he would be arrested if he did.  But as long as he wasn’t there, he would lose.  

It was ironic, he thought, but it was better than Fearless’ position. 

Crime meant never having to say you were sorry. 


“Mon Dieu,“ gasped the head of French spirits maker Pernod Ricard SA. 

There was reason enough to mention God for worldwide 2019 sales of cognac and spirits were falling faster than gravity and the fact alone should have been depressing enough to drive any man to drink.

Only it wasn’t and Pernod knew the twin reasons for the Debacle of the Spirits. It was, in turn, Brexit and, more grimly, the United States-China trade war. 

Britain’s exit from the European Union popularly dubbed Brexit was, to put it mildly, taking its time coming. Even Samuel Beckett thought that Waiting for Godot had nothing on this much-trumpeted exit. 

And it was taking its toll on the sale of spirits. Example: an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman go into a bar. Then all leave because the Englishman decides to leave.

You could see how an event like that, duplicated throughout the island, might have deleterious effects on Pernod and its sale of whiskey or brandy. 

The Prime Minister of Britain was a confident fellow. He thought he was always right because he knew it. And he had nothing against the European Union.

“It’s not EU you know,” he told them soothingly. “It’s just me.”

Bojo was an ever-rumpled mop off shaggy blond hair who smiled through life and firmly believed in teamwork so that there was always someone else to blame should anything go wrong. 

Like all good Brexiteers, he was nothing if not resolute. If at first, you don’t secede, he told everyone cheerfully, try, try again. 

You could see why a company like Pernod might not quite like the rumpled Mr Johnson. 

Indeed, the firm was more inclined towards leaders like Winston Churchill who regularly brushed his teeth with wine. Once on a trip to the Middle East, the Prime Minster had this to say: “The water there wasn’t fit to drink so we had to add whiskey to it. And, by great effort, I learnt to like it.”

You could see why a company like Pernod might appreciate such Churchillian efforts. 

The sales of spirits were also plunging in China, the world’s second largest economy and Pernod thought it was directly traceable to the US-China trade war that was damaging every trade-dependent country in sight. 

You might say the sales of spirits in the Middle Kingdom had fallen off a cliff. In 2017, it had grown by a staggering 27 per cent. The next year, however, saw those sales sharply brake to 2 per cent as the US tariffs began to bite. 

Even so, it’s a bit ridiculous for China to wring its hands so much. So its quarterly growth has slowed from 7 per cent to 6 and, perhaps, 5 per cent a quarter from now on. But it’s a developed US$4 trillion economy. In that context, even 5 per cent is , well, very good.

Singapore should be so lucky. 

And what did they expect? The US now has a President who implements what he promises comes hell or high water. Example: both Clinton and Obama had promised to shift the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and both balked because of the expected backlash. 

Trump just went ahead and did it. And, remember, he’d promised to bring China to heel over its trade practices. 

On the other hand, this is the same President who listed his three favourite rooms in the White House as, respectively, the Roosevelt Room, the Lincoln Room and the Oval Office. 

He ranks President Oval right up there with the best of them. 

Could the chubby criminal known as Jho Low actually be partying in Hollywood?

According to Page Six, a US-based celebrity gossip-sheet, the fat fugitive could be “hiding out” in Los Angeles. But the paper may not have known what “hiding out” meant because the same story went on to say that the tubby thief had been spotted “surrounded by people” at a party at the home of a Hollywood producer. 

Does that make sense?

Is it believable that an allegedly notorious felon, the subject of the book Billion Dollar Whale and the trusted “consigliere” of Fearless Leader would be invited to a Hollywood party?

Of course he would! 

He would have been the biggest celebrity at the party, a living example of Catch Me If You Can. 

Which is why the Page Six story is half past six because the Feds would have been there faster than you can say Bossku. 

The flabby fraudster was actually hiding out in China although that had been denied by the Chinese authorities because they believed a person was guilty until proven wealthy beyond all reason. 

After reading said article in the gossip sheet, Fat Boy heaved a deep sigh and wished he had been at that party in Hollywood. He’d lived for such moments and yearned wistfully for those days when he was the Wolf of Wall Street, when even people like Barnie Madoff would ask him for his autograph after seeking his advice.  

In truth, he was bored in China and read every article about himself with a voracious and abiding interest. He liked and approved such court references as  “consigliori” as it seemed to explain his love for pasta. 

The bulging brigand even keenly appreciated the spirit of Fearless’ defence which was to imply that he, Fatso, was the real brains behind the heist. He liked such greatness being thrust on him always provided that he was, at any one time, at least 5,000 miles away from Sungei Buloh and Abdul Hamid Bador.    

To stave off boredom, the corpulent crook had begun working on a book. He thought of it as advice for future Stanford graduates. And he already had a working title for it. Indeed, the buckle-swashing baddie thought that “By Hook Or by Crook” was an admirable philosophy to live by. 

Some other gems that came to him:

When I was very young. I thought the most important thing to have was lots of money. Now that I am older, I am convinced of it. 

Money isn’t everything: it’s the only thing. 

In between such flashes of brilliance, he brooded about Abdul Hamid Bador. The name itself left ice in his veins and gasping for breath in repeated nightmares. 

Because he seemed to know something that Fat Boy didn’t. 

That was why he feverishly read and reread a much thumbed newspaper article…

…The Inspector General of Police said police knew the whereabouts of Low, also known as Jho Low, and were determined to bring him back by the end of the year.

“We are working hand-in-hand with the police in the country where Low is hiding. It is premature now to say which country it is.

“I am negotiating with them and have set a target, which is to bring Low back by the end of this year.

And the last, the most chilling, line, read….

“He deserves to be tried here. ” 

What did he mean? Did he know something that Fat Boy didn’t?

Now he understood what Norman, the character from Cheers, meant when he said: “When the trust goes out of a relationship, it’s no fun lying to them anymore.”


In 2007 or thereabouts, we were informed that Tony Tan, the chairman of Singapore Press Holdings at the time, was coming down to Kuala Lumpur and would like to meet all SPH correspondents for breakfast at his hotel. 

I was the KL bureau chief of Singapore Business Times at the time and so was duly present and accounted for at said meeting.  Mr Tan tuned out to be a bespectacled gentleman who arched a supercilious eyebrow on learning that all of us, except for Reme Ahmad, were Malaysian.

“Really?” asked the man who would go on to becomes the republic’s seventh President.  He volunteered that Malaysians had “serious issues”, the final word of which he articulated with some surprise and not a little distaste. He pronounced it carefully too and it rhymed with “misuse.”

On the plus side, it appeared that we were creative, even a nation of copywriters. As an example, he cited the acronyms we came up with to name our highways – Duke, Plus, Elite or Sprint. 

At the time, I thought he was being condescending and I remember being repelled.

In hindsight, I may have misjudged the good Mr Tan. 

Since January, my wife has taken up a position in Singapore and I have spent a great deal of time there. Mr Tan must have got his insights about highways just by listening to the traffic reports. 

“Traffic is backed up on the PIE and don’t even think about going on to the AYE. But the SLE is fine and both the MCE and the PKE are only mildly congested. ”

No, the MCA is not a high school examination and neither is SLE a disease. They are all highways, parkways or expressways. 

Given the grim reality of ceaseless traffic reports on the radio, you too might want to call for copywriters. 

As an island nation, Singapore is a lot more humid than, say, Kuala Lumpur. But you wouldn’t know it, not if like us, you stay in a serviced apartment. Perhaps power is cheaper there because our apartment is always cold to the point of intolerance. I went around shutting off the various air conditioning units in each room the first day we arrived and it’s still cold. 

It’s like that everywhere – the hotel lobbies, the restaurants. The temperature seems permanently set at 18 degrees. You really have to exercise like crazy to sweat in the gym as the cold there is of operating-theatre quality. 

And you get used to it after a while, walking down Orchard Road. You know, the old now-you-chill, now-you-bake feeling as you alternately experience a cold gust of air-conditioning from one open store front before you step back on to the swelter of downtown Singapore. 

Even so, there is much to appreciate about Singapore – its cleanliness, its safety and, wonder of wonders, its absolute absence of potholes anywhere. 

And there is an ingrained element of maintenance in its culture that we would do well to emulate. Every time I enter the country, I am struck by the number of people on trucks I see pruning trees and shrubs so that they are not a liability during violent thunderstorms as they regularly are in Kuala Lumpur. 

There’s a lot right about our southern neighbour. We should accept that reality with grace.