Jho Low is Absolved by the Department of Justice: Where Can Mahathir Go From Here?
In a blow to the Mahathir government’s ‘raison d’etre,’ the United States Department of Justice has cut a deal with renowned global financier, Jho Taek Low, bringing an end to what would have been an expensive and complex litigation process.
As part of a comprehensive global settlement, the DoJ and Jho Low have agreed to come to terms, after a prolonged investigation and collaborative efforts from both sides. This outcome is being hailed as a huge victory for the Trump Justice Department, with assets in the $1 billion range expected to be recouped. Meanwhile, the Low family has successfully moved to be absolved of any wrongdoing in the 1MDB scandal.
With the bulk of Malaysia’s case against Jho Low predicated on U.S. Department of Justice allegations of money laundering, the settlement points to the case being anything but black and white. While the Justice Department will see a financial windfall by agreeing to terms with Low, historically the DoJ moves to make such a deal only when it fails to find a true smoking gun. Indeed, that the 1MDB scandal has been regularly quoted to be a $4 billion affair, this settlement points to Jho Low being caught up in it, and less the orchestrator he has been accused of being. With Goldman Sachs still mired in the case, it would seem the DoJ sees the New York investment bank as the only criminally implicated entity. Jho Low now appears to be positively cooperating with the U.S. Department of Justice, such that this might well force Goldman Sachs into a deal, and bring an end to the 1MDB saga.
This turn of events will be a blow to Prime Minister Mahathir’s government – which has promoted a vilification of the Low family for its domestic political ends. Now, with access to hundreds of millions of dollars available through cooperation with the DoJ, Malaysia might start to see Jho Low in a different light. That Jho Low might prove instrumental in bringing Goldman Sachs to the table critically hurts the credibility of Mahathir’s ruling coalition.
If Mahathir wants to cement a legacy that survives into many decades to come, the Malaysian government must accept the U.S. investigation and the DoJ-Low deal, both to recover funds much needed in uncertain economic times, but also to move beyond the racially-tinged accusations that Jho Low was subjected to.
A legal source close to the situation has notified outlets that Jho Low was offered asylum in August this year under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights – stemming from politicized actions and human rights violations by the Malaysian government against the Low family. The obsession with capturing the Malaysian-Chinese businessman has proved both futile and a waste of resources for the Mahathir government, with Jho Low, believed to be in the United Arab Emirates and freely traveling to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia given his relationships with the Royal families of the region.
With the developments of a DoJ-Low deal and the August offer of asylum, Malaysia will put itself in a norm-breaking position should it continue to pursue Low – now legally protected under international law. As the Mahathir government continues to refuse to extradite the wanted and extremist Islamic preacher Zakir Naik to India under the guise that he would not be subject to a fair trial, to turn around and demand the same of other countries vis-a-vis Jho Low is a farce.
For the national interest, Malaysia must act to cooperate with Low and use his relationship with the U.S. Justice Department to repatriate funds, and especially to bring Goldman Sachs into a deal that will see the most financial windfall for the country’s coffers. The opportunity to move into a new era has been forged by the DoJ-Low filing in a California court. Whether the Mahathir government sees it this way is yet to be seen.