Jho Low selling off art pieces, hotel stake

Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho has continued to divest himself of investments including a US$35 million (S$48 million) painting of a pair of drug addicts by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho has continued to divest himself of investments including a US$35 million (S$48 million) painting of a pair of drug addicts by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. PHOTO: THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Malaysian tycoon offloading assets amid FBI probe into dealings with 1MDB: Paper

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho has continued to divest himself of investments worth tens of millions of dollars, including a US$35 million (S$48 million) painting of a pair of drug addicts by American avant-garde artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has reported.

Mr Low, widely known as Jho Low, helped Prime Minister Najib Razak set up the state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) in 2009. He had said he was only an occasional and unofficial adviser to 1MDB.

The sales by Mr Low, 34, come as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) examines his financial dealings, the newspaper quoted people familiar with the situation as saying. Investigators believe that some of the money used by the Penang-born businessman for his property purchases could have originated from 1MDB, WSJ said.

The controversial fund is the subject of investigations in several countries, including Singapore, Switzerland and the United States, for suspected misappropriation of public funds.

WSJ said Mr Low last month sold the masterpiece of his one-time US$300 million art collection in a sale brokered by Sotheby's.

Basquiat's 1982 Dustheads was sold to US hedge fund manager Daniel Sundheim for US$35 million, according to three people familiar with the deal. It was sold for US$13.8 million less than what Mr Low paid for it three years ago.

Since February last year, Mr Low has sold at least US$205 million of art, including the Basquiat and several pieces by Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet that he sold at auction for less than Sotheby's estimates, WSJ reported.

According to the report, Mr Low last month also agreed to sell his stake in the Park Lane Hotel in Manhattan for an undisclosed price.

He paid roughly US$175 million for a stake of some 45 per cent in the 46-storey hotel in 2013, when a group including him purchased Park Lane for US$654 million, WSJ said.

Lawyers for Mr Low did not respond to a request for comment and Mr Low has denied any wrongdoing.

The Malaysian authorities, which have been looking into the 1MDB scandal, have said Mr Low would be called up if there was a need to question him over the matter. His current whereabouts is unknown.

Malaysia's Attorney-General has cleared Datuk Seri Najib, who was head of 1MDB's board of advisers, of any wrongdoing.

A Malaysian parliamentary committee concluded in a report last month that some US$3.5 billion of 1MDB's money went missing after being transferred to a company based in the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven. The company has since closed down.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2016, with the headline 'Jho Low selling off art pieces, hotel stake'. Print Edition | Subscribe