Altered states: The many possible faces of Jho Low

An artist's impression of some possible surgically altered looks of fugitive financier Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, based on a photo of him (centre) in 2011. Investigators believe Low has been travelling using multiple passports.
An artist's impression of some possible surgically altered looks of fugitive financier Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, based on a photo of him (centre) in 2011. Investigators believe Low has been travelling using multiple passports. PHOTOS: CHINA PRESS, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PETALING JAYA • Fugitive financier Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, may have assumed a new identity to evade arrest in a global corruption probe into state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), sources and experts have told The Star.

Police and immigration departments in Malaysia and Singapore assigned to track the 37-year-old believe he could have had facial reconstruction surgery.

"We believe he may have altered his features and has assumed an alias," a source said.

1MDB is at the centre of money laundering investigations in at least six countries, including Switzerland, Singapore and the United States.

Low has been painted by US prosecutors as the mastermind behind billions of dollars allegedly misappropriated from the fund, while Singapore investigators have called him a "key person of interest".

Low has denied any wrongdoing and said he was only an informal consultant at 1MDB.

His elusiveness has prompted the authorities to request his travel details and latest photos captured at immigration checkpoints.

"Investigators do not have Low's latest pictures. Most of the photographs available are believed to have been taken three or four years ago," said The Star's source.

A Kuala Lumpur-based plastic surgeon said that with the money Low has, an operation to alter his appearance would be small change for him.

"To change a chubby round face to oval or diamond-shaped would cost him between US$10,000 and US$20,000 (between S$13,600 and S$27,200)," he said. "The recovery period is about two weeks, but the patient will endure a swollen face for about a month."

The doctor said plastic surgeons can also alter eyelids and the shape of the nose and mouth in a few hours.

The authorities believe that Low also used special "ground butler services" available for VIPs and celebrities to help him clear immigration checkpoints.

"This explains why despite the Red Notice issued by Interpol, Low has been travelling in and out of a number of South-east Asian countries without much fuss," the source said.

Singapore had requested the Interpol Red Notice against Low, which was published in October 2016. It is a request by a member country to locate and provisionally arrest a person based on a valid national arrest warrant.

A Bangkok-based security expert, who specialises in travel arrangements, described how the butler services work: "Such passengers are normally taken directly to a private lounge operated by private jet operators as soon as they land. Their documents are handed to the pilots or ground handlers. They would sort it out with the immigration officer."

Since Low's super yacht Equanimity was seized by the Indonesian authorities in February, he has been spotted in Phuket, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Shanghai.

From initial details pieced together, investigators believe Low has been travelling using multiple passports.

Last Thursday, Immigration director-general Mustafar Ali said Low is now believed to be travelling on a Saint Kitts and Nevis passport after the government revoked his Malaysian passport on June 15.

Saint Kitts and Nevis is a small island nation in the Caribbean.

The Star reported last Thursday that Low is said to be heading for Bangkok, where he has a family house, but it was not known if he had arrived there.

Meanwhile, a former teacher told the New Straits Times that Low did extremely well in mathematics.

"He was a bright student overall, but his ability to grasp mathematics was really something," said the teacher, who did not want to be named.

Low was also a reserved pupil who had a few close friends, the teacher added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 15, 2018, with the headline 'Altered states: The many possible faces of Jho Low'. Print Edition | Subscribe