Tom Wright (@tomwrightasia) is an award-winning journalist, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World, co-founder of journalism studio and production company Project Brazen, and host of the Fat Leonard podcast.
What We Discuss with Tom Wright:
- A deep dive into the shadowy world of corruption, money laundering, and embezzling by the shadiest shysters among the elite.
- How does an investigative journalist uncover misdeeds by the rich and powerful without winding up on someone’s hit list?
- How did Jho Low, a charisma-free, second-generation fraudster, siphon billions of dollars from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund — with the aid of Goldman Sachs — right under the nose of global financial industry watchdogs?
- How many ways are there to launder this kind of money without being detected by the authorities?
- Where is Jho Low today?
- And much more…
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Over the course of a decade, Wharton graduate and Malaysian businessman Jho Low was able to defraud his country of $5 billion — with the assistance of Goldman Sachs and other complicit parties — while using the money “to finance elections, purchase luxury real estate, throw champagne-drenched parties, and even to finance Hollywood films like The Wolf of Wall Street.”
On this episode, we’re joined by award-winning journalist Tom Wright, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World, co-founder of journalism studio and production company Project Brazen, and host of the Fat Leonard podcast. Here, we discuss how Jho Low was able to seemingly fool all of the people in his orbit for 10 years, what he did to stay under the radar of authorities, and where he is today. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Thanks, Tom Wright!
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Resources from This Episode:
- Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope | Amazon
- Project Brazen
- The Fat Leonard Podcast
- Tom Wright | Twitter
- Goldman Sachs Charged in Foreign Bribery Case and Agrees to Pay Over $2.9 Billion | Department of Justice
- Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) | Investopedia
- Where Is Jho Low, the Billion Dollar Whale? | PolisPandit
- Malaysia’s Sleaziest Ex-Prime Minister, Najib Razak, Is Back | The Economist
- The Wolf Of Wall Street | Prime Video
- US Journalist Danny Fenster is Freed from Myanmar Prison | The New York Times
- Yousef Al-Otaiba Is the Most Powerful Man in Washington You’ve Never Heard Of | The Huffington Post
- Jurors to Weigh Elizabeth Holmes’ Fate after a 15-Week Fraud Trial | NPR
- Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous: The Rise and Fall of Jho Low | Knowledge@Wharton
- Pretend Billionaire Jho Low Threw Insane Parties for Celebs and Vanished | Vice
- House of Wax (2005) | Prime Video
- Joey McFarland | IMDb
- The US Is Chasing Jho Low’s Gifts to Miranda Kerr and Leonardo DiCaprio | Quartz
- Jordan Belfort vs. Jho Low: A Head to Head Battle of Financial Fraud | Robb Report
- Ponzi vs. Pyramid Scheme: Knowing the Difference | Investopedia
- Jamie Foxx’s New Year’s Eve Story | The Jonathan Ross Show
- Kylie Jenner to Celebrate Birthday on Jho Low’s Former Yacht Equanimity | The Straits Times
- Global Compliance and Anticorruption FCPA | Shearman & Sterling
- Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) | Wikipedia
- Did Singapore Let Jho Low’s Sister Low May Lin Escape the Country, and Did Her Mother’s Goh Family Connections Have Anything to Do With It? | Realpolitikasia
- Malaysian Money. Opulent Ideas. But Now, for Park Lane, a Forced Sale. | The New York Times
- What Are the Panama Papers? A Guide to History’s Biggest Data Leak | The Guardian
- Over 190 Law Firms Affected by Advanced Data Leak That Exposed Over 10,000 Legal Documents | CPO Magazine
- The Laundromat | Netflix
- Geneva Free Port: The World’s Most Secretive Art Warehouse | The Collector
- Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark | Prime Video
- ‘I Own You! You’re My Bitch’: Jho Low’s Hollywood Power Play | New York Post
- The Great Gatsby (2013) | Prime Video
- Frank Abagnale | Scam Me If You Can | Jordan Harbinger
- Inception | Prime Video
- Sani Abacha: The Hunt for the Billions Stolen by Nigeria’s Ex-Leader | BBC News
- ‘You Didn’t Know Jho Low Cheated Us?’ | The Edge Markets
- The Sarawak Report: The Inside Story of the 1MDB Exposé by Clare Rewcastle Brown | Amazon
- Clare Rewcastle Brown | Twitter
- China Denies Harboring 1MDB Fugitive Jho Low | Reuters
- Pegasus Spyware on State Department Phones: What You Need to Know | CNET
602: Tom Wright | Billion Dollar Whale
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:02] Tom Wright: Jho Low, like we said, he just took all the money out of a sovereign wealth fund overnight. And then, you know, when he wanted to amp it up a bit more, he forged links with this Goldman banker, Goldman Sachs banker called Timothy Leissner. This is a few years after the original fraud. Goldman Sachs helps this fund that Jho Low is running from behind the scenes to raise, you know, billions and billions of dollars. And Jho Low just steals half of it. And so it's hardly even bothering to think about what are the actual businesses we're going to be doing. That's going to be making this a sustainable fraud. And that arrogance comes from the fact that this was sovereign money. He had the prime minister of Malaysia in his back pocket. And then he also had officials from the United Arab Emirates and other, and then a Saudi prince all on the other side. So that these transactions they were doing look like they would be government, to government.
[00:00:49] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with people at the top of their game, astronauts, entrepreneurs, spies, and psychologists, even the occasional war correspondent, arms dealer, or tech mogul. Each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better critical thinker.
[00:01:14] If you're new to the show, or you're looking for a way to tell your friends about it, we have episode starter packs. These are collections of favorite episodes organized by popular topic to help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start to get to or to help somebody else get started. And of course, I always appreciate it when you do that.
[00:01:34] Today, one of the largest financial crimes ever, billions of dollars, plundered, not from wealthy investors, but from everyday citizens, this time of Malaysia, stolen by cronies of their own prime minister. And today on the show, my friend and gutsy investigative journalists, Tom Wright. Tom spends his time investigating frauds and corruption, pissing off autocrats, oligarchs, and authoritarian governments all over the world. And fortunately for us spilling their dirty money secrets into the pages of his books and into his podcasts and other work. On this episode, we'll dive into the shadowy world of government and corporate corruption, money laundering, embezzled funds, and we'll even get an inside look at the people that steal, move, and hide money all over the world, sometimes, and especially in our own backyard. Also what it's like to be an investigative journalist on the forefront of investigations that frankly agitate some of the most powerful and dangerous people in the world.
[00:02:26] If you're wondering how I managed to book all these great authors, thinkers, and creators every single week, it's because of my network. And I'm teaching you how to build your network for free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Most of the guests on the show subscribe and contribute to the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:02:42] Now, here's Tom Wright.
[00:02:46] One thing I don't understand is — okay, what you do is so dangerous. You're exposing corruption at the top levels of the US Navy. You're doing exposés on investors, if you can call them that, that are stealing billions of dollars in getting happy birthday videos from freaking Vladimir Putin. So either you are fearless or you're just not properly appraising the level of danger that you're putting yourself in. So what do you think it is? Which one is it?
[00:03:14] Tom Wright: I think it's neither of those. I don't think we're not properly appraising. And I don't think I'm foolhardy either. I mean—
[00:03:20] Jordan Harbinger: I said fearless, not foolhardy.
[00:03:22] Tom Wright: Fearless.
[00:03:22] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:03:22] Tom Wright: Fearless. Okay. I'm not fearless either, no. I think what it is, Bradley Hope and I, you know, we're co-creators of this company, Project Brazen, and I think we went into that building this company without the protection of a big organization before we could always count on the Wall Street Journal, where we worked for years to help us with lawyers and all this. Now where, you know, lawyering ourselves, we have to hire lawyers ourselves. We approach every project and that we're going to be fair. And I think that's really crucial. We wrote Billion Dollar Whale. We wrote about corruption at Goldman Sachs. This guy, Jho Low, who we think orchestrated the largest, one of the largest financial frauds, ever. But we never, ever, ever threatened anybody. And I think that's crucial and I think all good journalists will follow this. That you're seen as having a, sort of a slightly higher purpose. You never take anything sort of to a personal level on social media. That's very important. And people are going to get annoyed with you if you're uncovering corruption that they're involved in, for sure. But I feel like if you do it in a way that people believe that you're really dotting all the I's and crossing all the T's, they're going to be less angry with you than they are. If you're seen as somebody with even a small agenda or, you know, trying to play any angle, I think that's really the crucial element to staying safe in this job.
[00:04:37] Jordan Harbinger: That's the card people play when they go after journalists, right? They always say, "You're biased. You have an agenda, you're working for the CIA or whatever." I mean, it depends on sort of cold war, it was you're working for the imperialist, the CIA. Now it's kind of, you're working for the United States. If you're talking about China, it's always, you're a puppet of the United States. If you're talking to Iran or something like that, you're going to get that label. I suppose it just sort of depends. But what you're saying must be correct because otherwise all these despots and all these thieves wouldn't play that card. The second they get criticism or exposed by you, right? They're kind of like going straight for the juggler, which is, "Oh, well you're you have an agenda. You're biased."
[00:05:14] Tom Wright: Actually, I'm quite lucky. I've never been called a CIA spy by anybody. You're right. That's a very typical way to discredit—
[00:05:20] Jordan Harbinger: It could be the English accent. Maybe you're an MI6.
[00:05:24] Tom Wright: Yeah. I'd be very deep cover if I was a CIA spy, but I've never been called an MI6 either. If you're a reporter, if you're a figure — Pussy Riot, for example, that you've had on your show, they're likely to get tarnished with that you're stooge of a Western government. I never had that from not Najib Razak, the prime minister of Malaysia, who, you know, we wrote about his deep, deep corruption and involvement with Jho Low, who, of course went on to make the film, The Wolf of Wall Street with the money that he stole. You know, he never called us a foreign agent but, you know, he went after us. He said he was going to sue us. He never did it because he didn't have a leg to stand on with that and he couldn't have pushed that through.
[00:05:58] My point has always been, I think that if you're a journalist in say Bihar, in India, or some province of Pakistan or something like that, if you look at the list of journalists who die every year from the committee to protect journalists, it's not the likes of myself, the foreign correspondents, and it's the local journalists who find corruption in their local area and killing them will stop the story coming out and allow that local politician or whoever it is to continue to do the corruption.
[00:06:21] And that's why, you know, this journalist, the American journalist who just got jailed in Myanmar and has just been released.
[00:06:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yes.
[00:06:26] Tom Wright: I think he'd written some stories like that and he got into trouble. You know, it's extremely important that we don't sort of over state the danger that some of the foreign correspondents are under versus people who are really rooted in the local communities and get killed. The statistics show that.
[00:06:41] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that's true. You can always, well, maybe not always, but usually you can book the next flight out, go back to your hotel, pack your stuff, or just go straight to the airport. These people are already home, right? And everyone knows where they live and where their kids live. You can kind of be like, "Hey, Hong Kong is not safe anymore. We're going to move to Singapore." And in fact you did that and we'll get to that in a little bit, but you're right. These local journalists are the ones taking even bigger risks because their back is already against the wall, so to speak.
[00:07:08] Tom Wright: That's exactly right. Yeah.
[00:07:10] Jordan Harbinger: So let's talk aboutJho Low so hundreds of millions/billions of dollars are misappropriated/stolen by this 27-year-old businessman. And I'm putting that in air quotes because he's like — when I was 27, I was like a child, you know, I was a kid I'd just graduated from law school. I didn't know anything. I just moved out to New York to try it and sort of make it in the city, got my first real job. This guy, he's got billions of dollars at his disposal. He's hanging out with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx. This book is jammed with celebrity names. You can't really get more kind of ridiculous than this kid and he's 27. What's going on here?
[00:07:49] Tom Wright: So Jho Low was a kid from an island called Penang, just off the northwest of Malaysia. So it's really like a place, you know, it was important in colonial times. Ships would have to go down the straits of Malacca to get to China, a big port on the opium routes back in the 19th century. So he grew up on this island, which I guess, it's become known for trading and it's in Malaysia, but it's got a big Chinese population, ethnically Chinese Malaysians. And Jho Low Loco comes from that ethnically Chinese group. So he had family links back to China, into the Chinese and Thailand. So he grew up with a very international, sort of globalist perspective. He could pull on contacts all over the world.
[00:08:26] And then in '98, when he was a teenager for the last two years of high school, so I guess what you call junior and senior years, he was sent by his father to Harrow in the UK, which is one of the most expensive boarding schools in England. We see his family as very much, it was almost like a family con that was going on here. From a very young age, they wanted their son to get in with the Sultan of Brunei, who was one of the world's richest monarchs with his children who were at that school. And then he went to Wharton in America and continued to network, very, very, very skilled networker, always figuring out who's going to benefit him. He's sort of overweight, not very good looking, not particularly charming, actually not a Catch Me If You Can type figure, but still able to give things to people that they wanted.
[00:09:13] So for example, in Wharton, he would go off to Atlantic City and pay for everyone's gambling and all of this. He had family money by that point. And then he takes a semester off at Wharton to go to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi and tour around and meet all the sort of big wigs that he can find there, that he's gotten to know through his school networks. So he's drawing on those networks and he sees in the middle east how there's so much money and the difference between sort of sovereign wealth and personal wealth is blurred. And he loves that idea. That's the seed that sowed in his mind at a very young age. You know, this idea that's hard to see the difference between the private and public wealth.
[00:09:50] Jordan Harbinger: Meaning that a lot of these middle eastern sort of sheikhs and princelings, they just take the wealth of the country and use it for their own gain. Is that what you mean?
[00:09:59] Tom Wright: Yeah. He gets to know a guy called Yousef Al Otaiba, who is still the UAE ambassador in Washington. He's one of the sort of movers and shakers in Washington. Otaiba introduces them around and Otaiba would become very important in Jho Low's story because he helped introduce him to various different people. Otaiba is close to Kushner, close to Tom Barrack Jr. Jho Low gets in with certain people that are very useful to him. And what he does is after he graduates from Wharton, his childhood friend is a son of this character called Najib Razak or stepson of Najib Razak and Najib Razak becomes prime minister of Malaysia in 2008. And Jho Low sort of knows him via his children and Jho Low suedes Najib. He says, "Look, I can help transform your country by bringing all this Middle Eastern wealth into the country. At the time, you know, all prices were high. We're talking about middle, I guess, right? This is pretty common in Asia and in the emerging markets, so these brokers who take a percentage of deals that happen. It's very common in China as well.
[00:11:00] Jho Low sets himself up as sort of a broker between this Middle Eastern investment that would come in, in this case, a big infrastructure project, property project in Malaysia. And he makes a little bit of money on that. And it sets him up with Najib as this sort of, I guess, you could call it like an éminence grise or a Svengali type figure behind the prime minister. And like you said, it's incredible because he's only 27 at the time.
[00:11:22] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:11:22] Tom Wright: And he sort of persuades the prime minister set up this sovereign wealth fund, a bit like the ones you've seen in the Middle East and they call it 1MDB.
[00:11:29] Jordan Harbinger: It's so bizarre how this all happens right under our noses. Like I went to a pretty good law school, but it's just nothing compared to a school like — or I wasn't in these circles, which I'm fully aware is probably the case. But like when you look at Wharton and you go, oh, the prime minister's kids from Malaysia, step-kids whatever, are going to Wharton. And then this guy had come from this London school that probably had a ton of Saudi royalty or just Middle Eastern royalty going there and old money, but like generationally old money from monarchs and things like that. The rest of the world doesn't really know about this. I don't know about you. I didn't grow up around this. I don't know where you went to school, but I assume you weren't sort of hanging out, going to the birthday parties of literal or figurative, metaphorical, whatever royalty in whatever country you were in or they were in.
[00:12:18] Tom Wright: No, I went to a public school in Birmingham, which you know, is an industrial city in the center of the UK. I mean, we wouldn't call it a public school in England. A public school means a private school.
[00:12:26] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:12:26] Tom Wright: In a very confusing, British way.
[00:12:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:12:28] Tom Wright: I went to a state school, what we would call a grammar school. No, I didn't grow up with this at all. Through my work, as a journalist, I've grown to know — and you do this so well in your podcast — how the world really works. There are these figures who know how the world works. Bradley and I call them golden sources. We have these people that sort of know everything. If you want to find out something, you talk to them and they — it's like, you know, in the global world, seven billion people, the people who are actually in that sort of masterclass, if you could call them that, the 0.1 percent are actually very small.
[00:12:59] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:12:59] Tom Wright: And they're all intertwined. And we saw that during the Trump presidency, the same kinds of figures coming back and around. Jho Low was a master of figuring that out, I think, figuring out who those people were, like use of all tides of being one of them and getting to know them and that those people helped to grease his entry into that world. And, you know, he repaid them, which we can talk about.
[00:13:20] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's surprising that he wasn't charming. I mean, when you see sort of photos and you look or read the book and you see his antics, it's obvious that he's not charming, not that you can tell much from a picture, but a photograph plus the book gives you a pretty good picture of who this guy is. When I think of somebody who can con people out of billions of dollars, you know, I'm thinking of Elizabeth Holmes from Theranos, I'm not thinking of this schlep, right? Like it was shocking almost to hear and see what this guy was able to do.
[00:13:45] Tom Wright: Yeah, well, I mean, I've got this podcast, that's just come out called Fat Leonard, which is about this guy, Leonard Francis, who corrupted, who created a mafia organization inside the US Navy. Now, I was chumped by him during the making of the podcast, which was a COVID project 25 hours of talking to this guy. And then I find out all these dark secrets about him. And I'm like, like the listeners who'd be listening to this Fat Leonard podcast, they're like, "Well, why did I like that guy at the beginning?"
[00:14:06] Jordan Harbinger: I know.
[00:14:07] Tom Wright: But he is a con artist.
[00:14:08] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:14:08] Tom Wright: You've listened. You had the same reaction. I'm sure, right?
[00:14:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I listened to all the episodes, several ones you gave me before they came out. And I'm blowing through them, but it's like before lunch, I'm like, "This guy is really smart. Like this guy totally gets it." And then after lunch, I'm like, "This is a scumbag. I can't stand this guy." And by the end of it, you're just like, "Die already, you son of a b*tch." You know, like he's really a bad guy. Terrible.
[00:14:30] Tom Wright: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, Fat Leonard for the people listening was a contractor who made hundreds of millions of dollars out of the US Navy and corrupted admirals with sex and videotaped it and all this crazy stuff. But you can see why he was likable and why the con worked because he was able to make people feel a certain way.
[00:14:48] Now, Jho Low, you know, one problem we had with writing Billion Dollar Whale was every time we asked a model, we should say, Jho Low stole all this money from the sovereign wealth fund that Najib allowed him to set up.
[00:14:57] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:14:57] Tom Wright: So Najib sets up a sovereign wealth fund and says, "Hey, 28-year-old Jho Low, you run this from behind the scenes," but we know it's dodgy. So never take up an official position. And they just steal, you know, they steal hundreds of millions just like that overnight. I think we have about a billion in the first, this is 2009. This is coinciding with the financial crisis. So Jho Low has got all this money. He enters the nightclub world. One of the first things he wants to do with the money, it isn't to create a sustainable fraud, like Fat Leonard, who's got this maybe contracting business, but just to spend money in nightclubs in New York City. You know, he goes to Avenue. He goes to Marquee in New York and he becomes very important because at that time, the bottle service was sort of picking up and the financial crisis had meant the bankers didn't have the same kind of money to spend, but you took all those people who knew him from that period. And they just kept saying things like, "Well, it wasn't really that interesting."
[00:15:46] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:15:47] Tom Wright: You know, it didn't really have anything to say.
[00:15:48] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:15:48] Tom Wright: That was a challenge in the book, you know?
[00:15:50] Jordan Harbinger: There's a near certainty that I've met or run into Jho at some point because I used to go to Marquee, like every single weekend I had a friend that was a promoted there. It was like 2008, 2009 or whatever, 2007. And we used to go to every single weekend and you would meet the weirdest characters and you would hear, "Oh yeah, this person is a royalty from some country," or like, "Oh, his father owns oil stuff or he owns oil stuff." And I distinctly remember talking with one of my friends and saying, "Man, this guy's won the birth lottery," because they were younger than us or they were at the same age as us. And it was just like, these guys have so much money and they would say, "Oh, hey, after party on my friend's boat, it's in the Harbor or after party at this giant penthouse," that I think even in 2007 was probably $20,000-$25,000 a month. And you would just sort of run across these people and they'd have a bartender there. And it was a totally different life. And you think, "Wow, they do this every single weekend. It must cost hundreds of thousands of dollars." But if you're stealing a billion dollars from a wealth fund, it doesn't really matter.
[00:16:49] I'd love for you to describe this birthday party that he has. You sort of talk about it in the book, just to give us a rough idea of the extravagance of this sort of weird character. I mean, he's got Britney Spears singing him, happy birthday among other things. It's just loony.
[00:17:03] Tom Wright: Yeah. This is his — I've forgotten what birthday it was. It's 2012. Anyway, it in the book, we call it peak Jho Low, prologue of Billion Dollar Whale, because it was described as the most expensive private party ever thrown by the host of the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, right? So he was there.
[00:17:20] Jordan Harbinger: Robin Leach, right? So this guy is profiling like Malibu mansions cut into the Hills, saying, "This is a ridiculous party. I've never seen anything like this." And that guy's like 80 now, right? I mean, or more, I mean, I don't even know—
[00:17:31] Tom Wright: He passed away last year, this year or last year, but yeah, he went to that party in 2012 and said, you know, "This is the biggest party I've ever seen that's privately thrown."
[00:17:37] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:17:38] Tom Wright: There was like a Ferris wheel inside. It was on a vacant lot just off the Vegas Strip. People had to sign NDAs, they were bustin or brought in sort of secret manner. There was trapeze artists up above and, you know, in the rafters, the circus tent. It was like people who went to it said it was like going, you know, you would only see this constellation of stars if you went to the Oscars or the Golden Globes or something like that. There was DiCaprio at one point, he gets on stage and is rapping drunk with Q-Tip. And somebody commented he was the second best rapper up there after, I guess, Kanye West was there. And Kanye West was the best and Leonardo DiCaprio was the second best. You know, just everybody was there, including big directors, actors. At one point, a fake birthday cake is pushed onto the stage and Britney Spears bursts out of the birthday cake and start singing him happy birthday. We start the book with this scene because it's really unbelievable when Jho Low gets to this point. We were talking about like, okay, he's not charming.
[00:18:36] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:18:36] Tom Wright: But what he did do is he changed people's lives overnight. You know, this is the world we're living in. Whether it's so much money sloshing around, you know, he would drop $50,000 chips on the floor drunk and other people could pick them up and cash them in. And that changes your life, you know?
[00:18:50] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:18:50] Tom Wright: More than the average income in America, right? There was one Asian American model we talked, who said, look, it was her birthday. And he just pulled her into a Chanel store and bought her some $60,000 piece of jewelry. And he would do that over and over and over again.
[00:19:05] And then there were other people who had just changed their life as a character called Joey McFarland. He was sort of like a talent booker for Paris Hilton, who Jho Low got to know because when he stole the money, he wanted to meet Paris Hilton and hang out with her because he was a fan of her. Actually he liked House of Wax. That was one of the things he used to watch as a student at Wharton.
[00:19:22] Jordan Harbinger: It's so ridiculous.
[00:19:24] Tom Wright: Ridiculous. And he gets to know this character, Joey McFarland, who's this talent book of a Paris Hilton at the time. And he turns Joey McFarland into a bonafide, a Hollywood producer. Joey McFarland becomes the producer of the Wolf of Wall Street sitting next to Martin Scorsese. So that's what Jho Low did.
[00:19:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. He got this Midas touch, not through luck, but there's stolen funds. And it does make you think about money in a different way and you think, well, okay, it's like generous, but also not because it's not his money. And I think throughout the book, there were points at which somebody would say, and you noted this, somebody would say, "He's spending this money like it's not his," and how right they were. You know, when you're dropping two million dollars in one night of bad gambling, and you're not even seemingly having that much fun doing it. Like the only other times you hear gambling described like that is when North Koreans are laundering money at a casino in Macau and they're gambling. Have you heard about this?
[00:20:20] Tom Wright: Yeah.
[00:20:20] Jordan Harbinger: Where they'll like, stay up for 12 hours at a time placing max bets, winning half of them, and laundering the money to the casino and they're so bored. And they're having like food brought in and they're not enjoying themselves at all. This is the only other time you see somebody who's bored as hell gambling and then losing like two million dollars and just killing time waiting for his friends or something like that. It's just unbelievable.
[00:20:43] Tom Wright: What does two million matter if you've stolen, you know, billions of dollars?
[00:20:46] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:20:46] Tom Wright: It's inconsequential, you know, going back to being able to tell it was a fraudster, how culpable were people who — you know, they're inner circle of Jho Low's fraud, and we can talk about Goldman Sachs later and their role. There were people involved that knew all what was going on and were fraudsters. And then there were people who, you know, Leonardo DiCaprio took some Picasso paintings from Jho Low. Miranda Kerr who we also need to talk about, who was Jho Low's girlfriend for a while, the Australian supermodel, she took jewelry. All those people, there's no evidence they knew anything was wrong, that Jho Low was a fraudster and they gave back all them. DiCaprio gave and Kerr gave back all the gifts to the Department of Justice after all this came out in the wash. But, you know, Jordan Belfort who, of course, was the original Wolf of Wall Street on whom the film was based. He went to the premiere of The Wolf of Wall Street at the Cannes Film Festival that Jho Low and his crew had put on. And they had spent a million dollars on the launch of The Wolf of Wall Street at the Cannes Film Festival. It was like Kanye West singing on stage, you know, Bradley Cooper in the audience. This is a film company that at that point hadn't made any films and Jordan Belfort's in the audience himself. And he says, "This is an effing fraud." You know, he tells his girlfriend, "I know this is a fraud."
[00:21:55] And so that's the interesting thing to me. It's like, what's turning a blind eye and what do people know at the time, and it's very hard for us to desegregate all of that and know what people knew at the time.
[00:22:04] Jordan Harbinger: Why did Jordan think he was a fraud? Did you ever, have you talked with him about this? What was the giveaway where he was like, "Okay, what the hell, this is bullsh*t"?
[00:22:11] Tom Wright: Well, we haven't talked to him. He talked to a Swiss journalist called Katharina Bart about it and said this. I don't know. I mean, look, Jordan Belfort's definitely can be self-serving so I don't know if he really thought that at exactly that moment. He didn't go on any of these paid trips that Jho Low would put on to take people gambling for two days straight in Vegas and this kind of stuff. And he said, what I know, that he's spending money like it's not his, and I guess Belfort had firsthand experience of that, right?
[00:22:38] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:22:39] Tom Wright: He knew what that was. You know, a lot of people at the time — like something you were saying earlier, I think at that point, and even today, there were a lot of people with money around and people don't know where it's from and it's very easy just to say, "Well, that's money from the far east," but I don't understand that. But there were rumors at the time. Is he a drug dealer? Is he a con guy? What is he? Is he some kind of prince from—? He would self starve himself, by the way, as a prince from Malaysia as a way of explaining as well at one point, which makes no sense because he's Chinese and Chinese are not the ethnic royalty of Malaysia. Those are the Malays, right? Yeah, that was strange. And then at one point, he made up the story about how his grandfather was a billionaire when things were getting dicey for him.
[00:23:23] Jordan Harbinger: Jho Low's entire family history is almost fake somehow, right? Like early on, his father, it looks like got wealthy from insider trading and Jho sort of saw this coming up. I don't want to — well, I guess technically that's criminal, right? So he saw criminal behavior early on from even his own family. And they did a lot to launder their reputation. I don't remember specific examples from the book, but I have a note here that says that they literally went to quite a length to whitewash and launder their family reputation probably through philanthropy, I would imagine, right?
[00:23:56] Tom Wright: Well, yeah. So you're right. Jho Low's father ripped off a business partner with an offshore fraud. So Jho Low had grew up knowing all about, again, it was talking earlier about like, who are these people that really run the world and understand the world? And I don't know where you grew up but like, I didn't grow up knowing anything about offshore finance.
[00:24:10] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:24:10] Tom Wright: And the Cayman Islands and the Seychelles and all of this. Jho Low did. You know, his father had used offshore companies to rip off a business partner back in the '90s. His father threw parties on a yacht with Swedish models in Malaysia at that time period. So why do so many children of actors and directors become actors and directors? Just because, you know, you grow up in a world that is difficult to access and you have a foot in the door, right?
[00:24:34] I grew up in a middle-class academic family and so I learned to write and read and I'd become a journalist. We're all given great step-ups in life from out the luxury of where we're born, right? Jho Low's luxury was he was born into a fraudster family, you know, with a father who did a fraud, which is a similar crime of what he did.
[00:24:50] So we still have a question which you weren't able to answer in the book, which is, is it a full family affair? Was Jho Low just a, sort of a front for what was going on because you know, his father is now on the run with Jho Low. He gets to where Jho Low is now later. And when Jho Low first does his fraud and steals the money from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, he writes an email to his family saying, "We've hit a gold mine."
[00:25:10] Jordan Harbinger: Ah.
[00:25:11] Tom Wright: "We've hit a gold mine." It's definitely a way to see it as a sort of a family enterprise.
[00:25:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that is suspicious, I suppose. And also it makes more sense that somebody who's been in the game for decades at a time doing financial fraud would be at least mentoring him in this kind of thing. And he's not just figuring this out as he goes, because there's too many mistakes I would imagine you could make. Although you can afford to hire plenty of help when you've stolen that much money, I suppose, as well.
[00:25:35] Tom Wright: Well, for example, when he steals the money, he decides to send the first tranche of money he steals, he sends it to the Seychelles company. Now, the Seychelles back then was extremely good place to do that because you could have what was called a bearer share, which is if I physically hold the one share of that company, I'm the owner. And then Jordan, I can give it to you over dinner with no corresponding records or anything. And now, you're the holder of that share. That's a bearer share. And that was incredibly good way for money to be laundered in the way that probably crypto today is a very good way for money to be laundered.
[00:26:08] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Tom Wright. We'll be right back.
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[00:29:01] Now back to Tom Wright.
[00:29:04] It's sort of the opposite though, right? Because crypto everything's on the blockchain and very traceable. Bearer shares, I can slip it to you in an envelope. And now you're the owner of this company that has bank accounts that have $15 million in it, right? Or property.
[00:29:16] Tom Wright: Correct. Although there's many other ways which crypto can be used—
[00:29:19] Jordan Harbinger: It's possible. It's doable. So I've heard.
[00:29:21] Tom Wright: Anyway, I'm not a crypto expert, but I'll tell you what for sure, I bet you, for anything Jho Low is deep, deep into crypto right now. You know, he's sitting in China, he's been indicted in the US and in Malaysia, his home country, but he's sitting in China and I bet you for anything he's deeply into crypto. That's what I'd be doing if I was him.
[00:29:36] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I was going to say, if I'm him and I've got hundreds of millions of dollars, the first thing I'm doing is putting as much as I can into coins like USD Tether and Bitcoin. It doesn't even need to appreciate, in fact, it can go down. I just need to be able to move it around and take it out and give it to other people and spend it. Because right now, I mean, this guy's just dodging sanctions and he's one bank account shut down away or whatever from losing that money. And you can't do that with blockchain.
[00:30:04] The amount of celebrities in this book. I know we just talked about this a little bit, but I just, I want to go back and count how many times the name's Jamie Fox and Swizz Beatz show up in the book. I mean, these guys were tight from the look of it. And like you said, he had more liquid cash than maybe anyone at the time when people really needed cash and possibly more liquid cash than anyone really in history, any one person was controlling. Think about this, possibly more liquid cash than anyone in history. That's a bold statement, Tom, like, but that says a lot about the power this guy wields, if he's the one person that has the most cash in theory at his disposal at any time ever.
[00:30:41] Tom Wright: Well, we should say we wrote this book before Bitcoin billionaires blew up.
[00:30:45] Jordan Harbinger: Fair.
[00:30:45] Tom Wright: We should probably annotate that to say fiat currency.
[00:30:47] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:30:47] Tom Wright: Right. Because I'm sure there are people with more digital currency than he had. You know, we think he stole at least six billion dollars but it was the fact that it wasn't a pyramid scheme. You know, most frauds are pyramid schemes, right? You know, Bernie Madoff scheme for example, was a pyramid scheme. Investors invest and the last one at the door gets ripped off and the like to pay the earlier investors. And it takes many years. You know, Bernie Madoff's scheme went on for many, many years, right? Jho Low, like we said, he just took all the money out of a sovereign wealth fund overnight. And then, you know, when he wanted to amp it up a bit more, he forged links with this Goldman banker, Goldman Sachs banker called Tim Leissner. This is a few years after the original fraud, Goldman Sachs helps this fund that Jho Low is running from behind the scenes to raise, you know, billions and billions of dollars. And Jho Low just steals half of it.
[00:31:32] And so he's hardly even bothering to think about what the actual businesses we're going to be doing. There's going to be making this a sustainable fraud. And that arrogance comes from the fact that this was sovereign money. He had the prime minister of Malaysia in his back pocket. And then he also had officials from the United Arab Emirates and other, and then a Saudi prince all on the other side. So these transactions they were doing look like they were government, to government, right?
[00:31:54] So to get back to the celebrity. So, you know, he's got more money than anyone else and he sort of, at the beginning, all he wants to do is just throw it around Hollywood.
[00:32:02] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:32:02] Tom Wright: Which is what's so surprising about this for, like I said, he has little thought about building a sustainable fraud. And he's spending, you know, crazy amount of money. Like you mentioned Jamie Foxx, Jamie Foxx would emcee his events and get paid for that and he did that many, many times. Swizz Beatz is really one of the celebrities that was probably closest to Jho Low. This is Alicia Keys, his husband, and obviously massive producer of music. Swizz Beatz would go to many events with Jho Low including when the stories about Jho Low had come out and Jho Low was sort of on the runs. Swizz Beatz was still turning up at a hotel in Bangkok and hanging out with Jho Low. So those connections were quite deep and ran for many, many years. There are somebodies who will pay to do that, right? Nicole Scherzinger also, you know, the whole roster of them were on call.
[00:32:46] Jordan Harbinger: You had estimated that he spent something like $85 million on partying, jets, yachts, and paying celebrities to hang out. This isn't the amount of money he stole to be clear. This is just the amount of money that he spent on parties.
[00:32:59] Tom Wright: No, that's just the first 18 months, I think, that number.
[00:33:01] Jordan Harbinger: Just the first 18 months. Okay. There you go. Wow.
[00:33:04] Tom Wright: I think so. I think that's the number, that number you refer to was in the Department of Justice—
[00:33:07] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:33:08] Tom Wright: —lawsuits. Yeah. Sorry. Civil asset forfeiture suits. They state that number just 18 months, yeah.
[00:33:13] Jordan Harbinger: 85 million in 18 months. At the time, I think he had a $40,000-a-month apartment in New York City. And I assume he had a lot of American Express points if he's running the 85 million bucks on partying in yachts, paying celebs to hang out. That's a lot of miles.
[00:33:26] Tom Wright: He's living next to the Daniel Craig when he's filming — this is at the beginning of the fraud before he gets even bigger and builds his — yeah, he ends up buying Beyonce and Jay-Z's old apartment at the time Warner Center. This is the kind of place he's living in and the life he's lived.
[00:33:38] Jordan Harbinger: Unreal. So he's spending all this money, but he's actually supposed to be investing it in this fund, investing it on behalf of what the people of Malaysia, right?
[00:33:47] Tom Wright: Yeah. Yeah. It's supposed to be to improve the livelihoods of quite medium income country, you know, building, I suppose, to be doing green energy, but they actually end up buying coal fired power plants. So it's all nonsense what they do. It's not material to the story what they actually do was, what they do with the money.
[00:34:03] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it does sort of mean anything. What was the plan though? Was he supposed to make investments later that would hide his diversion of funds or was he just like, "Screw it, I'm young, I'm living, YOLO"? What was his plan?
[00:34:14] Tom Wright: I think it's really YOLO. It coincides with that whole period of music with Pitbull, you know, and LMFAO, you know, what's that song?
[00:34:23] Jordan Harbinger: Party Rock something.
[00:34:25] Tom Wright: Party Rock, yeah. I feel the music that really encapsulates Jho Low, it's sort of like — you know, at one point he actually makes a song with a bunch of those artists, I think Lil Jon and others. He pays Pharrell a bunch of money, pay Pharrell to help his Taiwanese girlfriend who's a pop star to make money. So he's doing all this stuff, which is no one's expecting to make money back of it. And then, he does this crazy thing when the news is tightening around him. When there's newspaper articles starting to come out in the Malaysian press about him, which eventually leads to his downfall and some sort of people have leaked computer servers with information about him. He goes and buys a $250 million yacht. He called Equanimity, which by the way has changed name and now Kylie Jenner is seen partying on it all the time.
[00:35:07] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:35:07] Tom Wright: Yeah. It's out there now. I think it's called the Tranquility. He used to call the Equanimity when Jho Low had it, but it was like one of the most expensive boats out there, $250 million. He bought that when he should have been trying to fill the holes from earlier parts of the fraud.
[00:35:21] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, so did he sell the yacht or did he just like give it a makeup?
[00:35:24] Tom Wright: No, it got captured. It got seized by these authorities on a request from the FBI. Sold. And now if you look at the Kylie, I'm not up with the Kardashians, Kylie Jenner's makeup.
[00:35:35] Jordan Harbinger: You're asking the wrong guy, but yeah, she's one of them.
[00:35:38] Tom Wright: Anyway, she's partying on that boat now. And I see photos occasionally on Instagram of that boat, which is ironic because Kim Kardashiah, when she got married to her first marriage to Kris Humphries, a sportsman, she got given a sports car by a Malaysian businessman. That's always been suspected, that was Jho Low.
[00:35:54] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:35:55] Tom Wright: Yeah, yeah, yeah, because that car then became a point of contention between her and Kris Humphries when they divorced, which was a few days or weeks after they got married. The New York Post posted a story about that.
[00:36:06] So anyway, the whole level of spending is just insane.
[00:36:11] Jordan Harbinger: He was a scammer from the jump. Like we talked about his family life. Right. But when he was young, he was doing social engineering, right? Like scamming his way into fancy nightclubs using, I think, it was embassy letterhead from Brunei, which is ballsy because that's really, you're not just sort of forging, "I am from Time Magazine. I have this laminated pass. So let me in." I mean, you're saying, "I am a diplomat or affiliated with Brunei, you know, sovereign nation, let me into this fancy nightclub." And then he's collecting money from rich people to pay the bill to make it look like he's the one paying the bill. So it's like quietly collect money, loudly pay it yourself, so that everyone's going, "Wow, that guy just paid this $30,000-nightclub bill for all of us. He must be a baller." So he realized early on. That proximity to money and fame got you similar effects to that same money and fame. And he'd seen his dad do it but, you know, Swedish models on your boat is totally different than — it's just a complete bush league compared to what he's doing here with celebrities. And he sets up all these funds that sound impressive, but have nothing to do with the name. I can't remember, but they are kind of like Middle East Sovereign Wealth Fund Incorporated, right? But it's really just him and his buddies grabbing cash from investors and putting them in shell companies.
[00:37:22] Tom Wright: He even rips off the names of big American financial institutions like Blackstone. I think he transfers money into something called Blackstone Real Estate at one point, but he puts like an Asia limited on the end and it has nothing to do with Blackstone, right? So, okay, one of the big questions here is how did this all happen? Given that Western financial institutions are supposed to have these know your customer rules and they're supposed to stop this happening. All these institutions, Goldman Sachs had helped raise money and all the auditors who audited the fund in Malaysia, the big four auditors from the west that did. You know, the law firms like Shearman & Sterling. Jho Low actually, when he spent that 85 million on partying, you mentioned, he funneled it all through a white-shoe law firm on Park Avenue because he wanted everything to look bonafide.
[00:38:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:38:07] Tom Wright: So a combination of the tricks using these fake company names, plus having the prime minister of Malaysia and all these Saudi royalty behind him, he was able to get through. But you know, to be honest, I think there was also a lot of greed in the Western institutions that allowed it to happen. This partner at Goldman Sachs called Tim Leissner, he's pleaded guilty to helping Jho Low funnel $200 million via various companies and bank accounts that he controlled. And so he's still awaiting sentencing because there's another Goldman Sachs employee, a managing director who pleaded not guilty, so that stuff's still all playing out. We haven't even seen the end of it. But Leissner goes to jail, he'll be, you know, probably the first ever Goldman partner to go to jail. No Goldman partners have ever been to jail. So this is all still to watch, you know, this story years later. .
[00:38:50] Jordan Harbinger: So somehow these guys transfer hundreds of millions of dollars through shell companies disguising it as investments in a sovereign wealth fund. And I would say how, but I feel like we'll get into the weeds, but the real answer is you can't do that without help from banks and law firms. It was actually, it was quite interesting to hear all of these names of firms that were recruiting students out of Michigan law school, White & Case, Paul Hastings, Linklaters where I worked, Shearman & Sterling where I also ended up doing something. I almost wish that I had stayed, I just would love to see the insides of some of these shady deals. I got to ask some of my classmates who ended up at these places long-term, but it was just a who's who of white-shoe firms and law firms and auditors and things like that where I have plenty of friends that I graduated with. It was like these folks know at some level what's going on, you have to, because you have to figure out where the freaking money comes from. Right?
[00:39:43] Tom Wright: Well, I don't know about the law firms — I should just say some of those firms names you said I don't recognize, but the difficulty with law firms is they can say, "Look, we have lawyer-client privilege." I mean, you know better than I do. You're a former lawyer, right?
[00:39:53] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:39:53] Tom Wright: Lawyer-client privilege. And so lawyers are still bound not to accept the proceeds of crime, right? They can't just take dirty money and use it. But after he was indicted in America and in Malaysia, and then he went on the run, he was able to continue to access the service of law firms, even though he couldn't access the US banking system. And I find that fascinating. So he can't get access to the US banking system because no one's going to take a Jho Low account these days, right? From his hideouts in China.
[00:40:19] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:40:19] Tom Wright: But he was able to use, what we call, cutouts, which are, you know, his friends who were able to move money for him and go pay law firms. Now, that's fine if it's to defend Jho Low in a criminal proceeding, everybody deserves a fair trial and counsel, but oftentimes these law firms are doing lobbying for him including, you know, trying to stop the publication of our book Billion Dollar Whale when it came out a few years ago.
[00:40:43] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:40:43] Tom Wright: Bookshops around the world received letters from a firm called Schillings in the UK, threatening them that they could be the target of a defamation lawsuit if they took our book. I have questions about how can Schillings get paid. Who's paying them all this money. They'll say, well, it didn't come from Jho Low because we couldn't do, know their customer and Jho Low, it came from some other way.
[00:41:03] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:41:04] Tom Wright: But it's an extremely dangerous area if you ask me for law firms to be getting involved in.
[00:41:08] Jordan Harbinger: It is. I mean, using a cutout is relatively simple, right? Like if I'm an attorney and I know he used Shearman & Sterling, which like I said another firm I almost ended up working for, there's these accounts — I can't remember the name off the top of my head, but essentially they're supposed to be sort of like temporary interest bearing accounts. Do you know what I'm talking about?
[00:41:28] Tom Wright: Yeah. We should say Shearman & Sterling, there's no evidence that they got involved with Jho Low after he was on the run. Shearman & Sterling's involvement goes back to when Jho Low first stole the money. And again, no evidence they knew he was stealing money, but he uses these things called IOLTA accounts, which were accounts set up in the Carter administration. You're meant to park money there and earn interest and use the interest to pay for lawfare, basically for people who can't afford legal representation and instead Jho Low use these IOLTA accounts just to funnel money to nightclubs, and to fund that 85 million, you referred to that partying that went on in the early days. So it definitely doesn't work. And there's some problem with knowing your customer rules and due diligence and the legal profession, for sure.
[00:42:07] Jordan Harbinger: Well, I think, and I may get corrected on this by somebody in the audience here, but lawyers really don't have the same — I won't say they don't need to do any due diligence on clients, but you kind of, there's a wide berth in what you can do and what you have to do, I should say in terms of due diligence on your clients.
[00:42:24] So if I'm a banker and you come to me and you say, "Hey, I've got $10 million. I want to start investing." I have to do all kinds of things to make sure I know where those funds came from and who you are. But if you show up to my law office and you say, "I need your help as an attorney." I don't have to do nearly as much investigation to figure out who you are and where the money came from, because I'm helping you as an attorney. A banker has a totally different standard.
[00:42:48] So these IOLTAs, these accounts, it's almost like a loophole or an end run around, know your — KYC, know your customer, regulations because lawyers are unregulated and firms are really hard to penetrate because of attorney-client privilege, which is, for those of you who don't know what this is, essentially I, as an attorney, can be made to say, "I'm not telling you anything. I'm not showing you any correspondence. I'm not telling you how much money this client has deposited with me." It's privileged information. Even if the FBI subpoenas me, I can claim that and the judge has to make an examination as to whether or not I have to disclose that. Whereas if it's a bank, they just go, "Here's all the records." It's really clever. And dastardly to use law firms to launder money, hide money, because it's so much more impenetrable. So this probably should be remediated by US law, but I don't know how many people are in a hurry to do that.
[00:43:41] Tom Wright: And how did Jho Low learn how to do that? You know, that's also interesting.
[00:43:44] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:43:44] Tom Wright: His sister, we talked about the family enterprise earlier, she's a lawyer with a specialization in the British Virgin Islands, right? So there's no evidence that his sister was involved in the fraud, but he definitely grew up knowing about all the ways that, you know, law firms and offshore interact and all of that.
[00:43:58] And then, you know, the book gets into all these other ways of money can be laundered. It can be laundered through real estate. It could be laundered through jewelry, art. Jho Low becomes one of the biggest art purchases on the planet. You know, he becomes a very important client for Christie's. He pays a record amount of money for a Basquiat, Jean-Michel Basquiat painting at $40 million. I think it was. With DiCaprio in the auction room where they're bidding. You know, he becomes one of the biggest jewelry purchases from Lorraine Schwartz in New York City. He buys jewelry for Miranda Kerr from Lorraine Schwartz. You know, massive purchase of real estate, you mentioned Jay-Z and Beyonce's apartment in the time Warner Center on Central Park. He buys mansions on Beverly Hills. You know, all of that stuff is very difficult. The US government and governments in other places like UK, trying to get a handle on how do you stop all cash purchases of stuff like real estate, because it's just a good way to launder your money in Western countries. So all of that stuff, and it's not just law firms, it's a wide variety of industries that help you.
[00:44:52] And why come to the US? You know, that's the other question. If you've stolen this money in Malaysia, why come to the US? Well, the reason is that's a fun place still. You know, LA, Las Vegas, at least if you're a baller like Jho Low, that's where you want to go. The other is that apartments cost a lot of money. Jho Low was building a billionaire tower on Central Park South, the old Park Lane Hotel. If you're in Central Park and you look south, you'll see that very thin tower that's going up. It has nothing to do with him anymore. It was seized by the FBI, but he was doing that. And that's a great way to launder money too, because if you're talking about a billion dollar — I think at those times they were billion-dollar apartments or hundreds of millions of dollar apartments.
[00:45:25] Jordan Harbinger: Unbelievable. I'd love to see the inside of an apartment that costs a hundred million plus dollars in New York. I mean, it's just got to be something spectacular.
[00:45:32] Beyond the shell companies, there's some clever stuff going on here, right? There's these mutual funds that essentially have one investor in a client. These kinds of wash the funds too, right? So normally a mutual fund has thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people paying into it. But you can create a mutual — I didn't know that you can create a mutual fund and fund it yourself. And then it's not Jordan Harbinger, the crook investing in your real estate or your assets or making acquisitions, it's Harbinger Holding Company Incorporated mutual fund, whatever it is, making all these acquisitions. So it looks much more normal for something, for an entity like that to throw around $200 million, $300 million, because it's a mutual fund. Of course, it's going to make giant acquisitions. It looks much stranger if I'm just cutting a check for that amount walking into your office one day. That doesn't make sense. That raises red flags. Mutual funds do not.
[00:46:24] Tom Wright: Yeah, you're right. I mean, it was actually worse than that. They were these mutual funds that Jho Low used where there were other investors in the mutual funds, but then Jho Low had his own portion of the fund, which makes no sense, right? It's not legal in America that they could push money into and out of. And it was never mixed with other people's money, but the money coming out the other side, as far as compliance people were aware, it looks like it's coming from a disbursement from a mutual fund. I don't remember which jurisdiction that was done. It was that Curaçao or one of these Caribbean offshore places. And so, it's a massive, massive problem.
[00:46:54] And one thing we're very happy about with Billion Dollar Whale was that you read all this stuff, you know, your listeners will have read it, the Panama Papers and all these, the law firm exposé and all of this, we really kind of tried to put the human story on the bones of all of that stuff. Because sometimes it can be a bit dry when you read about offshore.
[00:47:12] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:47:12] Tom Wright: So, okay, somebody else has got an offshore account. We really show here how it's used to fuel this fraud, and without it, the fraud could not have occurred.
[00:47:20] Jordan Harbinger: Have you seen The Laundromat on Netflix?
[00:47:23] Tom Wright: I haven't yet actually, no.
[00:47:24] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, it's really good.
[00:47:24] Tom Wright: I've read the book. Yeah, it's a Jake Bernstein book, yeah.
[00:47:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it's about Mossack-Fonseca in the Panama Papers and offshore accounts.
[00:47:31] Tom Wright: I heard the movie's great and it does a good job of like trying to make us understand why these things are so, so important. And also the pessimistic case here is that it will never change because it's bound up with how does the world really work and it was not 0.1 percent, right? Because without these structures to move money into corporate companies and all of these, that power will crumble.
[00:47:53] Jordan Harbinger: Exactly. Yeah. A hundred percent with you on that. I don't see. I mean, it's not just reforming one nation. I mean, you really have to get everyone together and say, "Hey, stop doing these really crooked things even though it's definitely in your best interest as a small island nation to keep allowing this practice and in return, we'll give you something that's going to make up for those lost revenues," I mean, unlikely.
[00:48:17] You said that he had bought art and was one of the largest art buyers in the world. I think the tally is 137 million in art. And you said that you stored it in the Geneva Freeport. What are freeports? I've heard this before and it's unusual — I just never really looked into what these are. It's kind of interesting.
[00:48:34] Tom Wright: Well, they have the roots, I think in like the 1800s or maybe even the 1700s where in Geneva, they wanted to be able to deposit trading goods for a while without getting taxed. So it'd be like a free trade. Like, it was never going to be sold in Switzerland or Geneva, so it wouldn't be taxed. And these things and grew and grew up into these tax-free zones where you can hold very valuable assets. I think the New York Times referred to them as the Cayman Islands of the art world. The one in Geneva, the Geneva Freeport is estimated to have, you know, art that would rival the Prado Museum in Madrid. It's incredible. And Jho Low stored a lot of his art there.
[00:49:13] If you think about it, it's pretty immoral because arts are meant to be seen by people.
[00:49:17] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:49:17] Tom Wright: And the fact that it's also sitting there and just being used as a repository. And it's a very good way to launder money, right? Because again, I think now the changes that you put in place, right? Like, so Christy's which Jho Low use, I think now they don't allow anonymous companies to buy art and this kind of thing. There are changes taking place in our world now for, in all kinds of areas like, real estate, art, where they're trying to know who the real buyer is. Because if you can know who the real buyer is it's harder for fraud to happen.
[00:49:46] I just signed up for a Binance account in Singapore and I had to post a picture of myself and identity cards with my face and all that kind of stuff, right?
[00:49:52] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:49:52] Tom Wright: Crypto account. So, you know, governments are trying to tackle this. Right-minded companies are trying to do things the right way, but it's always going to be loopholes. That's the problem. There's always going to be a way to have another shell company or another cut out that's going to do it for you. The art world in the Geneva Freeport was a really important way for children to move his money and to store its value.
[00:50:12] Jordan Harbinger: I'm imagining the Geneva Freeport looks like that warehouse in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Is that the movie where at the end, they're just shoveling, like there's boxes everywhere, as far as you can see? I imagine it looks something like that, and it's just full of gold bullion and arts and things that people have put away to never be discovered again and are just sort of quietly paying the monthly fee out of the Cayman Islands bank account.
[00:50:33] Tom Wright: We should say without the Nazi—
[00:50:35] Jordan Harbinger: Without — yeah. Well, I mean, I don't know, man, I don't know. We don't know what's in there.
[00:50:40] Tom Wright: Unless I'm misremembering that film. I've got a bad memory fulfillment.
[00:50:43] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:50:44] Tom Wright: But yeah, no, there's actually a Geneva Freeport in Singapore where I live here out by Changi Airport. So, you know, it's a very good way to store wealth in a way that's more liquid for you, art and jewelry and all this kind of stuff.
[00:50:56] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Tom Wright. We'll be right back.
[00:51:01] This episode is sponsored in part by Peloton. It's tempting to wait until the holidays to start achieving your fitness goals. It's cold, the road seems hazardous to go out. It's so cozy and warm at home, but Peloton makes working out simple, convenient, and fun. And they make the workout experience so entertaining. You're actually going to look forward to working out. Peloton has got a powerhouse roster of instructors like Jen's favorite, Cody Rigsby, who brings an infectious energy to class and always makes us laugh out loud. If you get motivated by being around other people that are also breaking a sweat, you don't have to worry about working out alone and Peloton. There's a camera. You can video chat while you ride with coworkers, family, friends. You can work out with interest groups like working moms of Peloton or Peloton parents and send high fives on the leaderboard. Their community is super strong over there. Peloton has endless class variety to keep your workouts feeling fresh from cycling, strength, yoga, bar, meditation. There's dance stuff in there and more.
[00:51:50] Jen Harbinger: Visit onepeloton.com to learn more. Try Peloton classes free for the rest of the year, new members only. Visit onepeloton.com/app to learn more. Terms apply. Peloton, when your workout is a joy, it's a joy to workout.
[00:52:05] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored in part by Handy. I'm going to let you in on a little secret about cleaning. I don't do it and neither should you like me? You're probably not any good at it, anyway, you just make a bigger mess, instead get Handy. Handy is a useful platform that matches you with actual professionals to help you with your everyday needs like cleaning. Whether you have one room to tackle or you need help with the whole place, Handy has flexible options that you can customize through the app or on the website. Once we hired a professional, we never turned back. The results speak for themselves. I'm actually able to eat off my own kitchen table now. They have the proper equipment and knowledge to do the job right. Now, we have more time and energy to do the things that we actually love/are actually productive. Plus, there's something so satisfying about coming back to a professionally cleaned home. Sometimes, you just need a break, pamper yourself by hiring a professional to clean every once in a while. Dang it. Go ahead. You've earned it.
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[00:52:57] Jordan Harbinger: Now, for the rest of my conversation with Tom Wright.
[00:53:01] Western banks, like Goldman, you mentioned earlier, would allow the fund 1MDB, Jho Low's fund to grossly overpay for assets in order to generate fees. So Jho would set up these sounded like companies with his cronies to make a company sound like a subsidiary or management arm of something legit to cover for sketchy off-the-book behavior. You kind of talked about this a little bit earlier, but there's a funny example in the book about GE. Can you tell us about this? This is like so stupid, but also stupid that it worked, clever that it worked, but also just ridiculous that it worked.
[00:53:35] Tom Wright: You know what? I've got no idea what you're talking about the GE example.
[00:53:38] Jordan Harbinger: Sh*t I hoped you would remember because I wrote discuss GE example from the book. Let's just get rid of that.
[00:53:45] Tom Wright: No, it's totally possible. It's totally possible that there is a GE example from the book. I've got to say, you know, this is a 380-page book and there's so many—
[00:53:52] Jordan Harbinger: It is a long book.
[00:53:53] Tom Wright: Actually, you don't cut this out because you know, this gets to the point of like, how did Jho Low keep all of this in his head?
[00:53:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That's a good point.
[00:54:00] Tom Wright: You know, we got hold at one point of his Blackberry messages.
[00:54:03] Jordan Harbinger: Oh wow.
[00:54:03] Tom Wright: This is a time of Blackberry. And it's an Excel spreadsheet of all of his messages. And he's talking about getting noodles with his friends and you have to go through all this kind of chit chat to get to the meat of it. This is part of the investigative journalism, the unloading, you get to a, "Hey, I am not kidding you. You had a company called Acme Time Limited," you know, like I think it's from like Road Runner.
[00:54:23] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Yeah. It's from like Looney Tunes.
[00:54:25] Tom Wright: "What happened to Acme Time Limited? We closed that down?" He's like just trying to keep it all in his head. Like these are unbelievable. Like he's round tripping money, sending it to his dad, back to himself, back to some other company. Very likely there was a General Electric lookalike company. Like he used so many different kinds of lookalike companies. And how did he keep it all straight in his head? I got no idea.
[00:54:45] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Who knows? Maybe at some point you're going to find another encrypted, something with a bunch of flowcharts about all of his companies and where they ended up and what they looked like. And he just didn't keep it on his Blackberry because he was smart enough not to. I think the GE example was just a sounded like companies. Like the example I gave earlier with it would be like Saudi Arabian Investment Fund Limited. And it's like, well, that's not really the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund. It's a entity that's out of Singapore and Malaysia, United States, South Dakota. What do I know? But it's definitely not, it's not what it's supposed to sound like. And he's just got dozens of these and he's moving things around.
[00:55:22] Jho later ends up on the board of EMI, a music label, all part of his plan to get influence. What's this about him telling Busta Rhymes that, "You're my bitch now"? I mean, that could not have gone over well at all with a guy like that.
[00:55:34] Tom Wright: So, you know, we're getting to the point where, you know, we said earlier, Jho Low didn't, he was just partying and spending money. But at one point he does actually start to build a business empire. So they make The Wolf of Wall Street, right? And that cost a hundred million dollars to make. And it's very successful. It makes $400 million. So he's making a bit of money there. And then he buys EMI Music Publishing just before the streaming revolution. So I think that makes good money and they appoint him — because of his investment, he becomes chairman of Asia for EMI Music Publishing. And then there's a scene in the book where he's sort of in, I think it's like it's Soho or back from somewhere and Alicia Keys' and Swizz Beatz' recording studio. And I had mentioned earlier was very close to Swizz Beatz. They're drinking whiskys, I think. And at one point, Busta Rhymes walks in with Pharrell Williams and I think Busta Rhymes was assigned to EMI Music. And so at some point in the evening, Jho Low makes this comment to Busta. "Oh, I own you. You're my bitch." And it's this sort of great scene in the book because he totally misread the room that sort of drops like a lead balloon into the room. And everyone's embarrassed. Pharrell tries to make small talk to sort of cover up the embarrassment. And, you know, it shows the Jho Low was an imposter. For all his billions, people still question, who was this guy, like, where did he come from? Why is he splashing all this money around? And that comment just showed, he didn't really fit in.
[00:56:52] Jordan Harbinger: It's ridiculous how he finances The Wolf of Wall Street, you know, just coincidentally a movie about a financial scammer and a con man. When you hear that he finances The Wolf of Wall Street, the movie, you got to be thinking he's attracted to the script and the writing and the plot line because he's Jordan Belfort, but much bigger in scale, right?
[00:57:12] Tom Wright: Yeah. He's attracted to it because it's almost, it's so meta, right?
[00:57:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:57:16] Tom Wright: The world's biggest fraudster who's pulling off the fraud as we speak uses a big portion of that to fund the making of The Wolf of Wall Street. It's amazing. And what's even more meta than that because Leonardo DiCaprio's attracted to playing fraudsters. He's done The Great Gatsby.
[00:57:30] Jordan Harbinger: Frank Abagnale.
[00:57:31] Tom Wright: Frank Abagnale, Catch Me If You Can. I think, what was he filming at the time when he met Jho Low? I think he was filming Inception. Was in Inception?
[00:57:38] Jordan Harbinger: I don't even know.
[00:57:39] Tom Wright: Anyway, he's attracted to these kinds of characters. And then he's sort of also hanging out with Jho Low, going on parties with him, sailing around the Mediterranean on Jho Low's yacht, all these kinds of things. And so it's incredibly meta because they're doing a fraud, which we should say again, no evidence that DiCaprio knew what was going on at the time. But you know, looking back on it, they're using fraud money to make a film about a fraud. The lead actor is sort of involved with a fraudster and then learning about living on these yachts and all this kind of stuff. It's amazing. It's an amazing meta situation.
[00:58:05] Jordan Harbinger: What the hell was the point of all this? Do you think he eventually wanted to just pivot it all into real investments at some point? Or is it just a rationalization for him to waste a ton of money on himself so he could pretend to be significant when really he was just a con man and nothing more?
[00:58:21] Tom Wright: I think the point that some countries are all treated equally under the United Nations system, right? And I think, you know, a lot of us, and we're getting back to how does the world really work, we treat countries sort of, we try to think of them as sort of equals, but some countries are run by people like mafia states. Sani Abacha, the dictator of Nigeria, you know, he would like take trucks up to the central bank and steal money, print money, and take it out the back. And that was his way of stealing money. This is a bit more sophisticated, but not much more. And Sani Abacha ran his country like that. He gave a 20-something-year-old the right to run a sovereign wealth fund. In Norway, the sovereign wealth fund is used for the good of the people—
[00:58:53] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:58:53] Tom Wright: —and the oil wealth of that country is kept there in a safe manner to be reinvested for the future. And that didn't happen in Malaysia for whatever reason, but that's the key to all of this. This is a sovereign state fraud in this case.
[00:59:06] Jordan Harbinger: So where do we suspect Jho Low is now? We know his yacht got taken away. That must have stung. I would imagine he was pretty upset about that. I don't suppose anybody's heard from him, but that couldn't have gone over well.
[00:59:19] Tom Wright: Okay. We should say, how did this all unravel for him? Or one reason was a Malaysian newspaper called The Edge and a British blogger called Clare Rewcastle-Brown, they got ahold of the servers of a computer, which sort of showed some of the details of his early fraud. And they reported that. And after these initial stories came out in 2015, Prime Minister Najib is still prime minister and he tells Jho Low to like sort of keep a low profile, get out. So he goes on, the Equanimity, his yacht and he's sort of sailing around for a while, still throwing parties and inviting celebrities. You know, the celebrities don't really read the press. They don't really know what's going on, whatever. I don't know. You know, they're still getting paid to go to these things on his yacht and he sails his yacht to Bali. And by that point, the feds, Department of Justice has filed this what's called civil asset forfeiture law suits. It's an attempt to get back the assets that was bought with all of this stolen money. The US obviously has the foreign corrupt practice act, right? If you're a US firm, you're not supposed to engage in corruption overseas. You're supposed to behave like you would do if you were under the purview of the SEC and other agencies. Often American companies don't do that. You know, Goldman Sachs did not do that in this case. And so they're trying to get the assets back. They get the boat back, they start to seize all the assets. The lawsuit was actually called the US versus the Wolf of Wall Street because they went after the film as well.
[01:00:33] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow.
[01:00:34] Tom Wright: They went after all his mansions, the jewelry. DiCaprio gives back his artwork. Miranda Kerr gives back the jewelry, all of that. And Jho Low then is sort of like he loses his boat and then he's stuck in China. The reasons he's in China are pretty complicated. I don't know if you want to get into them, but—
[01:00:50] Jordan Harbinger: We can sort of touch on it, but it depends how in the weeds it really is. It seems obvious that he would be in China if he's trying to — oh, well this is what your current article was about, right? So the Communist Party is sort of offering to shore up some of the debt that was incurred by this giant fund 1MDB by saying, "Well, if Malaysia lets us put our One Belt One Road, railroads and ports and all sort of infrastructure projects in there, maybe we can toss you a couple of billion dollars to stem these losses." Am I close?
[01:01:19] Tom Wright: Yeah. I mean, in a nutshell, Jho Low's in trouble because he's got to kind of fill out — Jho Low and Najib are in trouble, Najib is still prime minister. So Jho Low goes off to China and they try to cook up a very belt and road of these deals with the Chinese government does in other countries. A bit like the Marshall plan that the Americans did after the Second World War, but the belt and road deals, they build bridges and stuff in other countries, very corrupt. They agree to do a project like that in Malaysia and Jho Low and this Chinese official hookup to corrupt the whole project so they can steal money from it and fill some of the 1MDB holes. And then some of the Chinese officials can get rich. So that's why he's in China. Unfortunately, for him, that Chinese official has been arrested for corruption by the Xi Jinping government. So Jho Low seems to have lost this protector. So we lost sight of him a little bit, but we believe he's still in China.
[01:02:01] And then these guys were pretty dumb. They'd they took minutes of these meetings. The Malaysian side took minutes of the meetings saying, "This is going to be a slightly corrupt deal and we've got to make it look like it's done by the market." And then Najib loses power in Malaysia in an election because it's a democratic country. He lost. The new government gets hold of those minutes and they gave them to me. And I see in the minutes that it says, "Jho Low also requested for my family home to be bugged in Hong Kong."
[01:02:28] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[01:02:28] Tom Wright: That's when we decided to leave Hong Kong and moved to Singapore because shortly after that because you know, it was not a good place for us to live anymore, but that's why Jho Low is in China. And that's why he hasn't been brought to justice until today.
[01:02:39] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. They're wanting to find out who the leak is, but it turns out the leak is the government of Malaysia. So that sort of upsetting. So they offered a bug your home, and I've got the quote here, "Sun Lijun, the head of China's domestic security force, confirmed that China's government was surveilling the journal," the Wall Street Journal, that's you essentially, "in Hong Kong at Malaysia's request," including quote "full-scale residents/office/device tapping computer/phones/web data retrieval and full operational surveillance," which sounds a hell of a lot like they're following you around physically.
[01:03:13] Tom Wright: Yeah, I mean we have a swept for the bugs. One reason was that the firms that do that, they tell you, "If we find a Chinese surveillance bug in your home. We won't tell you about it. We won't touch it. We won't disturb it. And we won't tell you about it," because they don't want to get into trouble with the Chinese government. And so the point of having a sweep is sort of undercut by the fact, they're not going to tell you about it if they find it, right?
[01:03:36] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:03:36] Tom Wright: So we never did it. But the evidence that we have that my home was bugged is these minutes that the Malaysians took of the meeting with Sun Lijun where they request him to bug the house. And he says, he'll do it. Now, Sun Lijun is the Chinese Communist Party senior official, who's now being arrested for corruption in China. So that's what I was talking about earlier.
[01:03:54] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow.
[01:03:54] Tom Wright: But you know, the point is, you know, for those of you who followed Hong Kong, it's now effectively part of the Chinese surveillance state and the Communist Party state. Before there was this idea that it had a semblance of the rule of law and it was slightly outside of China. Now, it's no longer so, so it's not a great place for writers or journalists to be based anymore.
[01:04:12] Jordan Harbinger: It must give you some comfort that Mr. Sun is in jail, but also, I mean, it was scary, right? He says, "We'll hand over all the links that Wall Street Journal Hong Kong has with Malaysia-related individuals. I will hand over the wealth of data to Malaysia through back channels once everything is ready," the summary reads. "It is then up to Malaysia to do the necessary." What could they possibly mean here? That is like as explicit as it gets before somebody says, "And then you can kill them yourself or throw them in prison for them to rot."
[01:04:40] Tom Wright: I'm not sure I've got it. It goes back to your first question in this interview was I didn't read it that way. Maybe I'm foolhardy, but I mean, I read it to mean that they would take legal action against me in some way to make my life very, very difficult to get me to stop.
[01:04:52] Jordan Harbinger: If you're lucky that's what they me, right? If they're lucky, that's what they meant.
[01:04:55] Tom Wright: Maybe, maybe, but I don't know, by that point, by the point of this whole finding out about the bugging, this was like a couple of years into us reporting about 1MDB. So we talked earlier about journalists who get killed and in places like, you know, rural parts of Asia.
[01:05:07] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:05:08] Tom Wright: I mean, they get killed because they're about to report on something. That story's not out yet, right? And so there's, it's effective. Whereas, you know, in these cases, we didn't actually break the 1MDB story was broken by the Malaysian newspaper, The Edge, and Clare Rewcastle-Brown. So I don't think the danger levels by that point that we're talking about now were that high.
[01:05:26] Jordan Harbinger: Are you still worried that they might be bugging you? Like, you know what Pegasus is, right? It sort of lives on your phone and uploads all your data and it gives them, lets them listen to you, watch you. I know the Wall Street Journal has cybersecurity experts, but we're talking about Chinese internal security service, even if you were still with the journal. That's like trying to secure yourself against the FBI or the NSA or something like that. You know, it's like impossible.
[01:05:47] Tom Wright: I'm in Singapore now and I'm very, I feel very protected and safe here. I don't think so. But yeah, we have to be careful. You have to, you know, use two-factor encryption and just to be careful. We just had this Fat Leonard podcast go out and I was very worried about the tapes of it. You know, I wanted to make sure that I don't think I'm going to get hacked by the US government. Don't get me wrong. But, you know, we want to be very careful with tapes, which were, you know, 25 hours of this fraudster Leonard Francis, who corrupted the US Navy and created this misconduct inside the Navy. And he talked to us for 25 hours, even though he's yet to be sentenced, which is an extraordinary circumstance. He admitted guilt and then he's been waiting around. And the problem is that the Navy doesn't know how to deal with these corruption scandals that he hasn't been sentenced yet. So I was worried that these 25 hours of tapes we had for him might somehow get, you know, something might happen to. But no, I mean, nothing like that happened.
[01:06:34] Jordan Harbinger: I mean, you could encrypt them and then upload them to hundreds or even thousands of people. And then just keep them encrypted. That way if anything happens to you, you could have like a dead man's switch. I think WikiLeaks did that. Didn't they? Where it was like, "Hey, everybody grab a 500 gigabyte file of everything we have. It's encrypted. You can't decrypt it. But if anything happens to," I don't know, it was like Julian Assange or whatever, or the site, "we're going to get the password out to everybody. And then all the leaks are everywhere." I mean, that's your sort of best bet, right? is to just get a copy in as many people's hands as possible encrypted.
[01:07:07] Tom Wright: Yeah. Well, just to keep files offline.
[01:07:09] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:07:10] Tom Wright: Very simple way to be safe. Yeah. You know, we had a few things happen. I mean, I got like a face at one point during Billion Dollar Whale, I got a Facebook alert saying your Facebook has been opened in the United Arab Emirates, which is a big part of the fraud, you know, stuff like that. But in general, like I think, the important thing is not to be seen as partisan, to be seen as incredibly like, all you already want to do is write about what's happening and try to stay — neutral is the wrong word. I've seen in your podcast, you talked all of these, like there's no such. Everyone has bias when they come into the stories, but just to try to remain as try to just sort of tell the story and as close to neutral as possible, I guess, yeah, which is not achievable though.
[01:07:47] Jordan Harbinger: One coincidence that's interesting to me is that Jho Low and Fat Leonard are both from Penang, Malaysia. Like that's not a big place with a ton of people. It's not a small town or anything to be clear, but either you love investigating people from Penang, Malaysia, or there's just a culture of maybe aggressive opportunism and corruption in that area, or it's just a plain old coincidence. What do you think?
[01:08:07] Tom Wright: I don't know. I mean, partly it's because the way that I got to Fat Leonard, Leonard Francis is sitting waiting for seven years in prison in San Diego and now home arrest and thinks there has been a cover up in the US Navy and he wants to do. So he's looking for someone to tell his story and he uses an intermediary to find it a reporter or journalist, a writer to tell his story from home detention and the person, the intermediary, turns out that it's someone with a connection to the 1MDB story, to the Jho Low story. So that's how I'm the one that's doing both stories, but the 1MDB story, and — there's a thing in journalism where once you get a bit better know and have a bit of success, it's a bit easier to break news because people start to come to you with their stories, rather than, you know, when you're younger, you're starting out in the field, you have to, it's really hard. You have to sort of sway people to talk to you, right? You don't have a name working for the Wall Street Journal has helped because you were able to, people took you seriously. But that's why I got onto Leonard. If you listen to the podcast, you'll see that our relationship totally blows up and he ends up hating me—
[01:09:02] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:09:02] Tom Wright: —because it doesn't go the way he expected it to go. He wanted to tell his whole story about how he did this great job for the Navy after September the 11th. That he protected aircraft carriers from Al-Qaeda attacks. And it was a great service to the US Navy. And we ended up showing that actually he was running this terrible scam involving recording orgies that the sexual kompromat ends up in the hands of China. I mean, it's just an incredible story, and his own personal cruelties to women as well. So those relationships are very hard as a journalist because you have to, you navigate them with the source. And it's very different to 1MDB and Billion Dollar Whale, where we only spoke to Jho Low a little bit, right? Jho Low was not a big participant in our book, whereas Leonard Francis is a big, huge participant in the podcast.
[01:09:42] Jordan Harbinger: I don't know if Jho Low would want to answer your email at this point. What do you think?
[01:09:46] Tom Wright: Well, no, no. I think Bradley emailed him at one point and got an email back from Schillings, the law firm in London that I said terrorized bookshops, not to carry our book with no success back in 2018 and 2019. So, no, I don't think so. I don't think he would respond these days.
[01:10:01] Jordan Harbinger: Was the email something like, "Don't contact our client, we have no comment on this matter"? What does a law firm send you?
[01:10:06] Tom Wright: Yeah.
[01:10:06] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. That makes sense.
[01:10:07] Tom Wright: Something like that. Don't contact our client and—
[01:10:09] Jordan Harbinger: You know, you got the right email address then at least, you know that.
[01:10:12] Tom Wright: Well, yeah, this is a bit a while ago too. So I don't think anyone's written to Jho Low anytime recently. So yeah, we don't know where he is. I mean, the last thing I heard was there was a corporate intelligence firm was hired to find him. They did that. And he was in Macau, which is obviously an enclave of China, like Hong Kong is, and that was probably about 18 months ago, two years ago now. So we're assuming he's in China, but we don't know for sure. It's going to be fascinating.
[01:10:34] Jordan Harbinger: Unbelievable. Unbelievable. Well, great job. Aside from some people sometimes may be wanting you dead. You know, you're a really brave man. I really applaud your work. Hats off to you guys, you and Bradley both for exposing this stuff. And I appreciate you coming on the show as well. I just, I think what you're doing is extremely important, definitely not safe or convenient for you all the time. And without folks like you doing this kind of work, these guys run rough shot over democracy, over our financial system and they run unchecked and it's bad for everyone.
[01:11:05] What do you think the total cost is to the Malaysian taxpayers or citizen who lost billions of dollars? And this is not a wealthy nation, generally speaking, right? They can't really afford to lose all that money.
[01:11:17] Tom Wright: No, they can't. You know, white collar crime is very unsexy, right? The reason that this book works is because it's Hollywood, there's all this. When you try to show the victim of a white collar crime, it's a bit hard for anyone to care about, right? Like, you know, the people in Malaysia didn't get infrastructure that they would have gotten, they didn't get jobs that they would have gotten. That's the tragedy of all of this, very hard to sum it up in a person. And you know, the whole global inequality that is a big issue these days is, you know, it's exacerbated by this kind of fraud. And offshoring of wealth and money, a lot of it's coming from emerging markets, right? And that's terrible for those places, but there is some justice in this case, Goldman Sachs was hit with the biggest ever fine in America under the foreign corrupt practices act, the FCPA and some of that found its way back to Malaysia. So, you know, I think ultimately Malaysia may end up getting made whole on all of this, or at least not having to pay back this debt for years to come.
[01:12:06] And so, you know, this case, it did work because of the work of journalists, activists, and frankly, the American system, not perfect, but they do seize assets and send the proceeds back to the governments of the places where it was stolen from in the first place. Not everybody does that. So there's a case for sort of a little bit of optimism, but overall, these frauds are happening all the time. Wirecard, Credit Suisse's involved in a tuna bonds fraud in Africa, these things won't . We'll keep on reporting them.
[01:12:33] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, you'll never run out of work.
[01:12:35] Tom Wright: No.
[01:12:36] Jordan Harbinger: That's for sure.
[01:12:36] Tom Wright: I should say we don't do this for, we're not altruistic, you know, Bradley and I, we do it because it's an interesting job and the stories are fascinating. We like telling stories. I don't think you go into it thinking you want an end goal. I think once you start doing that, that gets into the — well, then it's more dangerous for you. You've asked me a few questions about danger. Well, if you have an end goal in mind, people see you as having a mission. And I think that's dangerous. We don't have that. We're just telling good stories where we find them and there are a lot of them to tell.
[01:13:03] Jordan Harbinger: Tom Wright, thank you very much.
[01:13:07] I've got some thoughts on this episode, but before I get into that, I wanted to give you a quick bite of the episode I did with Mark Cuban of Shark Tank and Dallas Mavericks fame. Mark gives advice to entrepreneurs and founders in these uncertain times. He tells us how he stays on top of trends and technology and how the US can compete with China.
[01:13:25] Mark Cuban: When everybody's afraid, the best way to deal with it is by coming together. It certainly seems a lot bigger than anything we've seen, you know, in my lifetime and the combination of the protests and looting and the pandemic, all of these things combined together to make for really uncertain times. And when people are uncertain about their future, that's why people rebelled. Martin Luther King said, "Rioting is the voice of the unheard." And the only surprise is that it's taken this long.
[01:13:52] Kaepernick didn't even bring the focus to himself. You know, he just happened to be taking a knee and somebody caught him with a phone camera.
[01:13:59] Jordan Harbinger: What would you have done in that moment, at that time, if he were your player, would you — how would you have handled that?
[01:14:04] Mark Cuban: I'd hug him.
[01:14:05] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:14:05] Mark Cuban: Yeah, absolutely.
[01:14:07] Jordan Harbinger: If you were president, how would you improve race relations?
[01:14:10] Mark Cuban: I mean, I hug a few people.
[01:14:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:14:12] Mark Cuban: You know, I'd walk out there and listen, you know, I'd take advice. I wouldn't think I had all the answers.
[01:14:17] Jordan Harbinger: This piece you wrote, "Dear white people, we're the ones that need to change," this is probably controversial. I would imagine he gets some blow back from something like that.
[01:14:24] Mark Cuban: A lot of people thought I was calling them out as racist, which I wasn't doing. In order for things to change, then people need to take measures and understand, be very self-aware about what's going on with them, and how people are living their lives.
[01:14:39] Jordan Harbinger: A lot of people don't seem to have much to look forward to right now. What do you think we should be looking forward to as a nation?
[01:14:45] Mark Cuban: I mean, look, there's no better time, ever, to start a business then right now, because all businesses are effectively going through a reset. And so there's lot of advantages and with the protests and the riots that gives us just one inkling of hope that maybe we'll make progress. Maybe this time we'll listen.
[01:15:01] Jordan Harbinger: For more with Mark Cuban, including the future of the technology economy, check out episode 362 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:15:10] Special thanks to Hi-Chew for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show. Hi-Chew is an incredible candy. I've been a fan for decades since I discovered it in Japan a long time ago. Originally invented as a gum substitute in Japan. So it's not polite in Japan to take food out of your mouth, like at all ever. Hi-Chew was innovated to have a texture, that's kind of like gum and you can swallow it. It melts. Biting into a Hi-Chew, it's quite an experience. It'll bring a smile to your face. Packed with flavor intense and fruity. There in Japan, they have like 200. I'm not even exaggerating. 200 unique flavors like dragon fruit, acai, kiwi, real chia seeds, piña colada. It's unlike anything else that's really out there at all. Hi-Chew has this dual layer. So there's this special patented flavor release technology and a unique chewy texture. It's not gummy. It's not a taffy. It's not too soft, not too hard. Single flavored sticks or variety bags are perfect for stocking stuffers this holiday season.
[01:16:01] Jen Harbinger: We want you to love Hi-Chew as much as we do, visit H-I-dash-chew.com/win. That's H-I-dash-C-H-E-W.com/W-I-N and enter to win an exclusive bucket full of Hi-Chew candy and swag. While you're there, check out how you can become a member of the Hi-Chew crew which is an exclusive club where you receive special offers and all the cool things. Go to hi-chew.com/win.
[01:16:27] Jordan Harbinger: Always a fascinating conversation. Man, the greed in some people is just unbelievable. And the total cost to everyday Malaysians and others is, is really it's incalculable, unfortunately. These guys, you just got to think, what kind of person wakes up and does this? You know, this has to be a slow burn. You just don't decide to do this overnight. There's a slow sort of rotting, moral decay here that just has to happen and has to be in part environment, part enabling, and just getting away with this for so long.
[01:16:58] Of course, this whole ordeal really soured the relationship that Malaysia had with the west and rightfully so, but what this did was then pushed Malaysia further into China's orbit and that means rough seas ahead for the US and Malaysia, especially. But most importantly, for everyday Malaysians, you know, that's really going to be the biggest problem. They lost their money and now they're going to potentially lose access to some of the South China Sea and the freedoms that go along with having an open and free economy.
[01:17:23] And I need to mention here, we are sort of complicit in this here in the United States, right? These aren't just plundered funds. This is money raised in the markets with the help of Goldman Sachs. These are shell companies that are in South Dakota. You know, it's not just Marshall Islands or the Seychelles or something like that with a bunch of Russian oligarchs, you know, us as a country, not as citizens, of course, but we allow these laws to be on the books and we allow this corporate nonsense to continue to happen. This is happening right in our own backyard. What does this say about the markets and the banking system? What does this say about greed? What does this say about laissez-faire economics? Look, I am all for an open and free market, but at some point, you know, why do we help other people evade taxes in their own country and then think that people aren't doing it here.
[01:18:04] Big thank you to Tom Wright. The book title is Billion Dollar Whale. Of course, he's got a lot on the plate, including Fat Leonard, which we'll link in the show notes. Links to all things Tom will be on our website in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. Please use our website links if you buy books from any guest on the show. It does help support the show. Audiobooks work as well, and the links work in other countries. So please do use those links. Transcripts in the show notes. There's a video of this interview going up on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. And you're also welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn.
[01:18:36] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using the same systems, software, and tiny habits that I use over on our Six-Minute Networking course. That course is free. I don't need your credit card. I don't even want your credit. I'm teaching you how to dig the well before you get thirsty. And most of the guests on the show subscribe to the course and contribute to the course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong. Once again, that's all at jordanharbinger.com/course.
[01:19:00] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's interested in Wall Street stuff, financial crime, money laundering, please share this episode with them. I hope they find it interesting, and I hope you find something great in every episode of the show. Please do share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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