Billion dollar whale by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope

The fact that the book was not allowed to be published in Britain speaks volumes for its potential to disrupt many a life. Tom Wright and Bradley Hope who wrote this book were nominated for the Pulitzer prize speaks more about the substance of the book. It is a story they tracked as the Wallstreet Journal reporters, of the Malaysian Jho Low who was spending money left, right, and center without its source being known.



Author : Tom Wright and Bradley Hope
Originally Published : 2018
Publication : Hachette Books
Pages : 400
Genre(s) :-
Non-Fiction, Corruption, Crime

The book sets out describing Low’s extravagant parties that cost millions for a night and slowly inches to introduce the shadowy Jho Low. Where did the money come from? His origins unknown, the source mysterious. Early on, Low realised that what his moderate looks and personality couldn’t achieve, his money could. He loved staging his riches, flaunting it with much chutzpah. 

The way he made it through to the top echelons of power circles makes for some interesting read, including his forging the Brunei embassy letterhead to gain entry into high profile clubs for partying or his extravaganzas for the Wharton classmates where he had chosen to study to make contacts.

The high rise of Low

This is a well-orchestrated career, connecting with the who’s who (read: the rich and famous) and leveraging contacts to make more money. Low’s proximity to Najib who went on to become the Prime Minister of Malaysia soon after, helped him tremendously. The authors have taken pain to etch a perfect story of every single of his associate’s lives. 

Within a short time, Low, coming on the radar of Wall Street honcho Tim Lessner, a rising star of Goldman Sachs in India. The two connected and thus was formed the 1Malaysia Development Berhad Fund which was supposed to invest in green energy and tourism in Malaysia and create jobs. But the fund was used for political purposes for Najib under the garb of CSR. Soon, they entered into an agreement with Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia with whom they formed a JV for PetroSaudi worth $2.5 Billion. That was a goldmine, as Low said in an email he sent to his family soon after. In a brazen transaction, Low and his coteries managed to transfer millions of dollars to secret bank accounts all over the world, hoodwinking bank authorities and spinning stories on the way. Eventually, Low had to answer for the sudden disappearance of the money from the 1MDB fund and he hatched plans to invest that money and fill the hole with its profits. Nothing seemed smoother than that, but only. 

Hollywood nexus

Low, being fond of fancy and fanfare, would not have been spared the attraction for glamour from Hollywood. Paris Hilton, Leonardo Decaprio, Martin Sorcese and the like soon gravitated to him for money’s sake. The Wolf of Wall Street was Low’s money and put him on Hollywood map as a producer. Low’s rise in Hollywood circles was a story of a misfit trying to fit in with unease. 

The book reads like a novel-cum-reportage, etching out one detail after the other. So much so that after a while, you feel overwhelmed with all the minutiae and would tend to struggle to keep focus on low and his activities. This brainy chap seemed to have been sold on his ambitions. Today, Low has escaped the media and the Malaysian police by seeking shelter in his ancestor’s motherland- China. But the buzz around the billions of dollars that he siphoned off refuses to die down in spite of his vehement denial that he did anything wrong. 

Key takeaways

  1. The story of Jho Low and his rise is a classic case of ambition ruling over ethics. 
  2. Tom Wright and Bradley Hope have come up with a masterful narrative of how a low-key Jho Low manoeuvred his way from Malaysia right upto the power and glamour corridors of the world and made his billions. 
  3. It is a sad tale of the nexus between politicians, shady businessmen, conduit banks and financial institutions and ambitious persons
  4. Billion Dollar Whale lets you a glimpse into how good reportage unearths some of the most secretive and nefarious deeds of the people.

Why I recommend this book

Because it makes for some interesting read, though it could feel a tad heavy with facts.

Read it to understand the under-dealings and the nexus of people in high offices who want to make a quick buck with others’ money, riding high on power. It also tells that however wrongly a person earns his moolah, the wrongs rarely stay hidden. 

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