PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS) - London-based lawyers representing financier Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, have sent threatening letters to bookshops around the world in an attempt to prevent the distribution of a new book about his alleged involvement in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, reported The Guardian.
The book Billion Dollar Whale was written by Wall Street Journal reporters Bradley Hope and Tom Wright. It is already being sold in Malaysia and Singapore.
Low has been identified by investigators in Malaysia and the United States as a key figure in the 1MDB case. The US Department of Justice says over US$4.5 billion (S$6.2 billion) was misappropriated from the state fund, with some of the money used to buy a private jet, a superyacht, Picasso paintings, jewellery and real estate.
The Malaysian authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Low, whose whereabouts are unknown. The financier, whose Malaysian passport has been revoked, has denied any wrongdoing.
The Guardian said it has seen the letters that have been sent to independent bookstores in Britain and around the world.
In the letters, lawyers from London-based firm Schillings reportedly said the decision by some to publish a synopsis of the book constituted an actionable libel of Low.
Schillings wrote to one bookseller to say it was "astonishing" that the shop had published a description of Billion Dollar Whale on its website, and warned the individual bookseller that it is "now on notice that serious defamatory material is likely to be contained in the subject book", Guardian reported.
The lawyers asked individual booksellers to provide a commitment in writing never to sell the book, detail proposals for compensating Low for the publication of the synopsis, and provide "reimbursement of his legal costs".
They also told booksellers that if they did not receive a response, then they would have no choice but to commence legal proceedings against the bookshops.
Schillings, however, did not confirm to The Guardian whether Low was a client of theirs, saying that "we do not talk about clients or matters, neither do we confirm or deny whether any individual or entity is a client of the firm".
A spokesman for MPH, which is the distributor of the book in Singapore, said that the legal action overseas will not affect bookshops here.
"At the moment we will proceed as planned," he said. Some 6,000 copies have gone out to the stores this month, and another 4,000 copies have been ordered in anticipation of the demand.
Major bookstore Kinokuniya Singapore which has stocked about a thousand copies of the book said it has not received any cancellation notice about its launch of the book on Sept 26.
Robert Sharp of English PEN, the free speech campaign group that co-founded the Libel Reform Campaign, said the decision by Low's lawyers to target booksellers was deeply worrying and "sets a terrible precedent".
He argued that by focusing on the synopses, "the effect of these legal letters is to short-circuit the legal process, by putting booksellers in an impossible position", reported Guardian.
With additional reporting by Amelia Teng