What would you do to be famous? There is only so much room for A-list actors and musicians out there, but every day there is a new celebrity made by a reality TV show or viral video. These days, you can achieve stardom for just about anything.
In 2012, an anonymous businessman befriended Hollywood’s elite and tossed around more money than most of us could ever imagine. But as he accrued fame and spent more and more time in the spotlight, people began to wonder who this mystery socialite really was…
Leonardo DiCaprio usually hangs out with supermodels, but he had a very different companion at The Wolf of Wall Street premiere. The stranger reportedly befriended Leo by gifting him with a Picasso painting and helping fund the movie. But who exactly was this guy?
The Hollywood Reporter
He was a Malaysian financier named Jho Low. Frequenting star-studded parties and carrying out huge real estate transactions, he was a distinguished businessman and self-made billionaire. At least, that’s what Jho wanted everybody to think.
Unsurprisingly, Jho came from money. His father, Larry Low, worked as an executive at an investment company. Though Larry made millions, his business practices were known for having a shady side, and he dreamed of his son joining him in his shadowy pursuits…
Jho attended the prestigious Harrow School in London. From the onset, he sought the approval of his wealthy and powerful classmates. Jho went so far as to throw a party on a friend’s yacht and fill it with family photos so everyone would think the Lows owned the vessel.
At Harrow, Jho continued to befriend people who he hoped to use later, including Riza Aziz, stepson of eventual Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Riza, below, aspired to be a filmmaker. He and Jho planned one day to produce blockbuster movies together.
After Harrow, Jho studied at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. There, he connected with prominent families and convinced them to take him on as a financial manager — even though he had no experience in the field! After graduating, he became a virtual overnight success in the finance world.
Most people would be content with that kind of money, but not Jho. What he really craved was fame and notoriety. Although he was not talented, Jho realized that he could enter Hollywood’s inner circle by paying stars to spend time with him.
Perhaps foreshadowing his eventual friendship with Leo DiCaprio, Jho poised himself as a 21st-century Jay Gatsby. For his 31st birthday in 2012, Jho set out to put himself on the map by hosting one of the most expensive private parties in history.
He offered Britney Spears hundreds of thousands of dollars to jump out of a cake and perform a couple of songs. The odd request shocked the pop star, but how could she refuse that kind of paycheck? Britney was far from the only star that Jho lured into his social life.
In the philanthropic world, Jho donated huge sums of money to cancer research after having a brush with the disease himself. His generosity brought invitations to high-profile charity events, where he rubbed shoulders with more stars, including Alicia Keys.
Shortly after Miranda Kerr divorced Orlando Bloom, Jho leaped to the opportunity to impress the newly single supermodel. He showered her in gifts, including a $4.5 million diamond, cut into the shape of a heart.
Kerr wasn’t the only celeb who caught his eye. Tabloid reporters spotted Jho partying with socialite Paris Hilton on multiple occasions. He wooed her unsuccessfully but certainly enjoyed seeing photos of the two of them together. It easily justified the cost of paying Paris to hang out with him.
To fulfill his teenage dreams, Jho even bought his own yacht. This was no ordinary boat, either. Dubbed the Equanimity, the superyacht was longer than a football field and boasted its own swimming pool and helicopter pad. The vessel cost a staggering $250 million.
Surrounded by so many visible signs of success, Jho felt unstoppable. He became known as a “whale,” a casino term for an especially notable high-roller. But even as his profile rose, Jho held onto a secret that he desperately hoped nobody would discover.
In 2018, his luck ran out. Wall Street Journal staffers Tom Wright and Bradley Hope published a book about Jho, entitled Billion Dollar Whale. They pulled back the curtain and showed that Jho was nothing more than a fraud and a criminal.
Jho played a central role in abusing 1MDB, a wealth fund run by the Malaysian government. He became president of the account and secretly directed public money into projects that fed his own interests. Wright and Hope estimated that Jho siphoned $4.5 billion away from 1MDB.
Bloomberg / Goh Seng Chong
Of course, Jho had friends all the way at the top of the Malaysian government, including Prime Minister Najib Razak. The PM, however, was arrested on corruption charges shortly after leaving office. If the head of a country could not escape such severe consequences, what could Jho do?
The Malaysian Insight / Hasnoor Hussain
He fled. In 2018, Malaysian police, along with authorities from many other countries, were on the lookout for Jho. They believed he was hiding somewhere in East Asia, but he had been apprehended.
If one thing is for certain, it’s that these money laundering allegations have shattered Jho Low’s good standing. Even if he somehow evades legal ramifications, he’ll never return to the quasi-celebrity status that he once enjoyed. That ship has sailed for this pirate.
As of October 2018, Jho was still on the lam. Some experts theorized he may have undergone plastic surgery to evade search parties. Is this disappearing act Jho’s greatest con yet, or is it just the last stand of a desperate man? Only time will tell.
The Straits Times