Flight watchers have observed that aircraft 9M-NAA, one of the two jumbo jets generally commandeered to transport the Prime Minister and his family, has been parked in Hong Kong since Christmas, while the couple have embarked on a seasonal holiday abroad (the other 9M-NAB cannot be traced).
Hong Kong’s attractions are more as a financial and shopping destination than as an obvious holiday spot, so we have decided to re-run an expose on this subject, following investigations in Hong Kong earlier this year.
Originally published the day before Najib’s coup against his own government and his move to close down all the investigators into the missing billions from 1MDB, the significance of this evidence of Jho Low’s direct role in paying for Rosmah’s shopping was somewhat overlooked:
Sarawak Report has continued its enquiries into Rosmah Mansor’s financial links with the controversial businessman Jho Low, whose company siphoned nearly USD2 billion from the 1MDB PetroSaudi joint venture in 2009.
Despite earlier denials, Sarawak Report has now accessed documents and emails, which detail how Jho Low has provided payments for millions of dollars worth of diamonds purchased by the Prime Minister’s wife.
Payments were done through Hong Kong, using an account belonging to a Jho Low owned company named Butamba Investments Limited at the British bank RBS Coutts’ branch in Singapore.
[update: Coutts Singapore was also the banker for Good Star Limited, registered by Low in the Seychelles, which removed billions from 1MDB].
The system, according to people who have sold to Rosmah, is generally for Jho Low to pay an intermediary, who then pays the jeweller.
Previously this intermediary was Deepak Jaikishan, who was once a trusted agent of Mansor’s, but who later went public about his role in silencing a witness in the Altantuya murder case.
Currently, the intermediary is confirmed to be the Singaporean dress designer Natasha Mirpuri, who now works with her husband Haresh Mirpuri as the ‘fixer’ for all Rosmah’s precious gem acquisitions.
The Mirpuris are now familiar faces at the various world jewellery shows and they have created exclusive and profitable links with several international jewellers.
Sarawak Report has viewed numerous emails sent from and to Jho Low relating to such payments, which are notoriously hard for jewellers to get settled.
In one transfer, hundreds of thousands of dollars can be seen as having been paid directly from Jho Low’s company to a known jeweller to settle several items of diamond jewellery purchased by Rosmah.
Another set of emails and receipts detail how Jho Low’s company paid a total of USD1 million to a Jakarta trader, Deepak Topandasani, towards purchases of ‘Datin’s jewels’.
A further payment also of a million US dollars was directly made to an Asian subsidiary of one of the world’s most exclusive jewellers in New York, Louis Glick. Again the money came from the same company owned by Low.
Usually, however, traders say it is Mirpuri who controls all transactions and makes payments through Hong Kong. Jho Low in turn pays Mirpuri. One one occasion Low told an intermediary:
“She [Rosmah] has to realise it takes time, it’s not so easy to just get the money quickly”.
The system is frustrating and uncertain say traders, who are often made to wait months to be paid for transactions. One Asia based jeweller told Sarawak Report:
“It can take up to a year to get paid. You get paid in instalments indirectly. She has the money of course, it’s just she is very controlling and likes to make people wait, she is a control freak”.
Another, who is based in Europe, confirmed:
“We are waiting [on] their payments more than six months – we sold end August/Septemeber and we are still waiting and it is a big amount. It’s not like you can just phone her up…. they are not buying like before, she was a good customer but she is changing now”.
Given this further evidence gained from jewellers and insiders, Sarawak Report believes it is time Malaysia’s first couple explained their relationship with Jho Low, his role at 1MDB and where the money came from in order to finance these enormously expensive purchases for the PM’s wife?
The payments accessed by Sarawak Report show that one company regularly used by Jho Low to pay jewellers providing gems for Rosamah was Butamba Investments Limited.
Jewellers say that more often than not Jho Low has funnelled funds more indirectly, through Deepak Jaikishan and Natasha Mirpuri.
However, we have seen a number of receipts paid directly by Butamba Investments, all relating to jewellery purchases by Rosmah, according to related emails. An email related to the above telegraphic transfer record read:
Fwd Payment advice to Rose Trading USD1,000,000
From: Lee Julia (RBS Coutts, SG)
To: [email protected]
Dear Mr Low,
Julia Lee (attachment)
Separately, an email relating to the below receipt was forwarded from Jho Low and was titled ‘Internal Transfer’ Fvg Deepak USD750,000:
“Hi….please confirm receiving 1 million in total.. Datin is coming to Hong Kong. Do you want to show her more goods?”
Research into Jho Low’s company Wynton Capital by Malaysia’s premier business paper The Edge has already established that Butamba Investments Limited is the investment arm of Wynton Capital and was listed as a shareholder of Iskandar Holdings, the company which acquired a large chunk of controversial land in the Government backed venture that has destroyed much of Malaysia’s remaining mangrove forest and displaced native fishing communities.
The payments from Butamba Investments, along with the related emails from Jho and testimony from jewellers and insiders, seal the link between Jho Low and highly expensive purchases of jewellery by the Prime Minister’s wife.
Another email sent to Jho Low and a jeweller, who was awaiting settlement reads:
“As per conversation with Jho Low he has informed he will do the following. Your outstanding balance is now US$1,650,000. Latest by 14th deposit US$750,000 and by end [of the month] deposit US$900,000 (500 +400)..”
Jho Low himself wrote several emails direct to jewellers, which we have seen along the lines of the one quoted below:
“I wish to confirm USDxxx,xxx is Ok. You should receive it late tonight or tomorrow” [we have been asked not to state the amount to protect the identities of the transactions]
It is therefore legitimate to ask why millions of dollars in payments went through this company owned by Low in order to fund the purchases of diamonds and other jewels by Rosmah?
Butamba’s Singapore account with RBS Coutts is not the only connection between Jho Low and this private bank, regarded as one of the most exclusive in Britain.
The Chairman of the bank is the son of a former Prime Minister, Earl Hume and its most famous customer is the Queen.
Earl Hume is also Patron of the British Malaysia Society, which seeks to build relationships between the business elites of both countries.
It was Coutts Bank’s Zurich branch in Switzerland, which controversially provided an account for another Jho Low company named Good Star, which accepted a USD700 million payment from 1MDB at very short notice on October 2nd 2009.
Evidence from the PetroSaudi data base, acquired by Sarawak Report and others from their former executive Xavier Justo, shows that PetroSaudi Director Patrick Mahony had lied to 1MDB’s legal team that Good Star belonged to PetroSaudi, when in fact it was controlled by Jho Low.
As Sarawak Report revealed in March, the youthful Low enjoyed an unofficial and secretive but extremely powerful position at 1MDB, as it was understood he was the representative of the Prime Minister and Finance Minister, who it has emerged had himself secretly obtained total authority over all spending and investments, as the sole shareholder and signatory of 1MDB.
Emails show that there was concern expressed by compliance staff at Coutts about who the beneficial owner of Good Star was on the day of the transaction on October 2nd 2009.
Yet, what would normally be regarded as a suspiciously large transaction was nevertheless completed in a matter of a few hours on that day.
The following year some USD530 million was then transferred on from the Good Star account at Coutts Zurich to an account beneficially owed by Jho Low at BSI’s Singapore Branch.
Jho Low’s BSI accounts are now being investigated by the Singapore authorities as part of the wider investigation into the missing billions from 1MDB.
A number of insiders have identified this Singapore couple as the key intermediaries for Rosmah’s ‘shopping therapy’.
The fashion designer became part of Rosmah’s entourage around 2006, insiders say, and was extremely ingratiating. She started to replace Deepak and other intermediaries with retailers for Rosmah and has controlled the ‘First Lady’s’ purchases for the past six years.
Jewellers have complained to Sarawak Report that the situation has disadvantaged them because the Mirpuris demand commission, or they will not make the introduction to this lucrative client.
“The normal commission for white diamonds is about 2-3%, but Rosmah likes “fancy” diamonds [coloured]. Normally, an agent can hope for up to 10% for fancy diamonds, but the Mirpuris are demanding 20-30%”, a business insider told Sarawak Report.
Payments from Jho Low are obtained in dribs and drabs, usually through the Mirpuris.
However, one creditor told Sarawak Report that in one case the balance was settled directly in cash that Jho Low paid into their colleague’s Hong Kong account through Coutts Singapore:
“It was two lots of USD500,000. The bank accepted the cash straight into the account. No inward remittance – untraceable cos cash”.
It has been observed that the Mirpuris, who appear to have no other occupation beyond servicing Rosmah, have become prosperous in recent years.
“All the negotiations are done through them, not Jho Low. It’s like you can’t go direct to her, because if you do bad things will happen to you and you aren’t going to get paid… They are the people right now between the payment and the jewellers” remarked one.
Rosmah’s propensity to buy large has got out of control in recent years, particularly since she became ‘First Lady’, members of her entourage and sellers have confirmed to Sarawak Report.
“People say Rosmah finds buying her therapy, this is her happiness let it go. But, she went crazy, overboard.. It’s very easy to charge US$20 million for a pink diamond – $20 million, $30 million, $40 million, so it’s not hard to spend” explains one.
However, the system of payments through third parties creates major problems say jewellers.
Most sales take place at her own residence where jewellers fly in from all over the world to hawk their wares. If the transaction is “small” i.e. less than a million dollars, according to one trader, then the payment is fixed on the spot.
“She has this aluminium cupboard that stretches the entire wall of one room and it is full of cash, all lined up in different denominations and amounts”
However, the larger sums are less easy to settle and can involve several payments over many months.
“There is no up front, no one-time, nothing. Everything is spread out like over 6 months. There is no one-time payment made to one company… there’s always payments made in maybe 5 batches or 6 batches, spread out over the year. This is why it’s quite open in the industry that a lot of people don’t want to do deals with her because it is very risky.. the margins are very high, but their risk is even higher”
Rosmah is also known to be temperamental, say jewellers.
In one case a prominent Malaysian jeweller, who was driven to ask for a delayed payment had all the purchased articles thrown back at him, following which he was expelled from the house – sale cancelled.
Jho Low’s involvement in the process comes from his trusted position as a longstanding family friend, introduced by Rosmah’s son Riza who he met abroad while at school in the UK and then the US.
The Warton business school graduate has boasted in the past how he started his company Wynton Capital while still in college with a “few million” and he was taking a pivotal role as a “trusted advisor, helping the family with their finances” from his twenties say people who know the couple well.
The question remains as to why the couple have so much money for Jho Low to assist in spending and apparently managing?
As numerous observers have pointed out neither inherited money of this magnitude and Najib has been a politician earning an MP’s and ministerial salary since his early twenties – he joined parliament at the age of 23.
Responses on this subject in recent months have ranged from inheritance, to the expected wealth of people in high positions to wealth from a newly acquired son in law.
However, Jho Low’s activities as a prominent investor linked to many of Malaysia’s public projects from a very tender age now clearly deserve explaining. Why is he paying for Rosmah’s jewels and where did this money come from?