Billion Dollar Whale: Book Review – the Story of 1MDB and Jho Low

Amazon.com: Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street,  Hollywood, and the World (9780316436502): Wright, Tom, Hope, Bradley: Books
Billion Dollar Whale – the story of 1MDB and Jho Low

I was not too keen to read this book until I saw it was recommended by Bill Gates. The book was launched on Sep 2018, and is about 405 pages.

If you like crime thrillers (similar to Wolf of Wall Street) and financial crime books in particular (there are very few books in this genre), then this book is a must read.

I would give it 4/5 for story, eye for detail and pace. I suspect you can skip this book and expect to see the movie in the next year or so (because of Covid, it might launch later).

The book is the story of a young Malaysian called Jho Low, who came to study in the US (Wharton) after finishing school at Harrow in London.

Harrow schoolboy Jho Low is a real Wolf of Wall Street | Daily Mail Online
Jho Low at Wharton

After he graduated from Wharton in 2009, where he met many heirs of billionaires and other people from “old” money, he devised a scheme to raise a sovereign wealth fund for Malaysia. He did this by having the government (Prime Minister of Malaysia – Najib Razak was involved) sell bonds (loans) underwritten by Goldman Sachs and backed by from the Middle East.

Over the next 7 years, he controlled over $5 Billion in money and spent it on bribes, payoffs, kickbacks, parties (there is extensive description of the parties), art, music labels, movies (Wolf of Wall Street was financed by Jho Low), and debuachery.

He paid all the people involved by means of multiple numbered accounts in Cayman islands, Switzerland, Mauritius and controlled over 20 entities which moved billions of dollars globally.

The book itself has over 50 different characters, so it might be hard to keep up with the story. The 5 central characters are Jho Low, Najib Razak (the PM of Malaysia), his wife (Rosmah) – who had a penchant for luxury good and jewelry, the financer at Goldman Sachs (Tim Leissner) and the ambassador of UAE to the United States (Yousel Otiba).

Celebrities from Paris Hilton, Miranda Kerr, Leonardo di Caprio, Jamie Foxx and a host of others were all involved in some way as well, partying hard with Jho who had a very lavish lifestyle.

I suspect that the movie will be much better than the book, given the nature of this story.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions.

How did he not get caught doing all this?

That puzzled me the most, but when you read the book, you realize he paid each and every person (bribes, kickbacks) he was involved with. Every one made money, so everyone partied. Even those in the Malaysian government connected to the Prime Minister benefitted. Goldman Sachs alone made over $500 Million dollars from raising money for 1MBD.

What happens to the loans?

Depending on which version of the story you read, there are over $11 Billion in loans outstanding. Most of that will have to be repaid by the Malaysian government, but others including UAE. Goldman Sachs paid the Malaysian government $2.5 Billion in exchange for the government dropping criminal charges against them. The assets purchased by Jho Low and Rosmah (wife of PM, Najib) have fetched over $1 Billion (including a yacht and over $300 Million of jewelry).

What are the consequences?

There are over 25 criminal and civil cases pending in the US, Singapore, Switzerland, Malaysia and UAE. They involve many Goldman Sachs employees, Jho Low and others. Najib and his wife are both in custody. Jho Low has not been apprehended yet and is purported to be hiding in China.

Here is a quick 10 minute video on 1MBD and the scandal.