Malaysian tycoon in spotlight for $75m art sales

Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho.
Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

NEW YORK • Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho has attracted attention for his flashy lifestyle and real estate deals, as well as his connections to the Prime Minister's family and the government's troubled investment fund.

Now Mr Low is once again creating buzz in the art world. Since Feb 3, he has sold works by Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Jean- Michel Basquiat, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The three works of art fetched about US$54 million (S$75 million), with unusually steep losses on at least two pieces. The works consigned by Mr Low were among top lots at Sotheby's evening auction of impressionist, modern and contemporary art in London this month.

All three had been pledged as part of the collateral for a loan of about US$100 million from Sotheby's Financial Services, two of the people said, asking not to be named.

Mr Low fielded questions last year over Malaysia's government investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), whose advisory board is headed by Prime Minister Najib Razak. 1MDB has been the subject of overlapping investigations in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong amid allegations of financial irregularities.

The financier told newspapers that he provided informal consulting to the fund, did not break any laws and was not being investigated.

Mr Low and his representatives at Hong Kong-based Jynwel Capital, which he co-founded and leads, did not return calls and e-mail seeking comment on the art sales. Sotheby's declined to comment.

The 34-year-old has coveted the spotlight, partying with socialite Paris Hilton and appearing on the red carpet with singer Alicia Keys. He also posed for a photo with Leonardo DiCaprio at the 2013 Paris premiere of The Wolf Of Wall Street, produced by a firm co-founded by Datuk Seri Najib's stepson Riza Aziz, a long-time friend of Mr Low's.

Mr Low had turned heads in the art world in 2013 and 2014 with a shopping spree for trophy pieces. While he personally examined the works and negotiated prices, one of the people said, it is unclear whether he used his own money, family money or made investments for clients.

More recently, he has been a seller. This month, his 1935 painting by Picasso - a portrait of the artist's lover, Marie-Therese Walter - fetched US$27.6 million.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2016, with the headline 'Malaysian tycoon in spotlight for $75m art sales'. Print Edition | Subscribe