Malaysia businessman denies allegations over state investment firm

AFP  | 

A Malaysian businessman has strongly denied a report by a website that he benefited from alleged improprieties in a complex 2009 financial deal involving a government-owned investment company.

Lawyers for Low Taek Jho, known popularly as Jho Low, who has been at the centre of growing Malaysian calls for a full investigation of the controversy, said the allegation was "false, materially misleading and is categorically denied by our client".

The accusations were contained in a report last weekend by Sarawak Report, a UK-based site run by a former BBC journalist that focuses on Malaysian corruption allegations.

The report, parts of which also appeared in the UK's Sunday Times and on Friday in The Economist, published a series of alleged internal emails that it said showed $700 million involved in the deal between the state-owned Malaysian firm, 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), and Saudi energy company PetroSaudi was sent to a bank account belonging to a company controlled by Low.

London law firm Schillings, which represents Low, said in a letter to AFP that he was "consulted" on the deal, "but has never been involved in criminal acts with respect to this transaction".

It said the allegations, which were cited in an AFP report on Tuesday, contain "substantial factual inaccuracies and false allegations".

"The allegations are entirely baseless," it said in a letter setting out Low's position on the allegations, which it termed "defamatory".

Nobody involved in the controversy has publicly disputed the authenticity of the emails cited by Sarawak Report.

Over the past year, several Malaysian media investigations into the deal have raised mounting questions over 1MDB's financial dealings and whether public funds were being abused, and Low's role.


1MDB was launched in 2009 by Prime Minister Najib Razak, who still chairs its advisory board.

But it is reportedly struggling to pay off $11 billion in debt, and critics say it has been opaque in explaining its dealings.

Najib has denied any wrongdoing in the affair, and his office has said the attacks on 1MDB are politically motivated.

1MDB denies improprieties in the PetroSaudi joint venture, maintaining that it received back all of its investment of $1 billion in the deal, plus a $488 million profit, and that its audited accounts prove this.

Both Low's lawyers and 1MDB denied he had ever been employed or retained by 1MDB and that he had ever had any decision-making role.

Malaysia's opposition, as well as powerful ruling-party figures such as former premier Mahathir Mohamad, have stepped up calls in recent months for a probe into 1MDB and the PetroSaudi deal.

After the Sarawak Report allegations, anti-graft watchdog Transparency International on Tuesday joined the calls for "a full investigation".

On Wednesday, Najib ordered the country's Auditor General to "independently verify 1MDB's accounts", with the findings to be passed to a bipartisan parliamentary public accounts committee.

"If any wrongdoing is proven, the law will be enforced without exception," Najib said in a statement released by his office.

Sarawak Report's editor is Clare Rewcastle Brown, a Malaysia-born former BBC journalist and sister-in-law to former British prime minister Gordon Brown.

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