Coronavirus: Malaysia 1MDB fugitive Jho Low spotted in virus-hit Wuhan, says police

Low Taek Jho is accused of playing a major role in plundering billions of dollars from sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
Low Taek Jho is accused of playing a major role in plundering billions of dollars from sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.PHOTO: NEW STRAITS TIMES PAPER

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - A fugitive Malaysian financier wanted over a massive graft scandal has been spotted in the city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, police said, although it was unclear if he had left before Chinese authorities imposed a lockdown.

Low Taek Jho - commonly known as Jho Low - is accused of playing a major role in plundering billions of dollars from sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Looted money was used to buy everything from a super-yacht to art, in a fraud that allegedly involved former prime minister Najib Razak and contributed to his government's downfall in 2018.

Low, who denies any wrongdoing, has long been on the run and is often rumoured to be in China.

"Previously, we received intelligence that he was active in Wuhan," national police chief Abdul Hamid Bador told a press conference late on Wednesday (Feb 19), referring to the city at the centre of the outbreak.

He said the authorities had no information on whether Low had fled the city since the start of the outbreak, but added that he would be screened by airport staff if he were to arrive in the country.

Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province, where the virus is believed to have emerged in December.

The pathogen has killed over 2,100 people, infected tens of thousands in China and spread to dozens of other countries.

Inspector-General Abdul Hamid also joked that Low should return to Malaysia if he has contracted the virus, "because our health facilities are the best... We will give him the best treatment".

 
 
 

Malaysia has reported 22 cases of the virus.

Low has been charged in Malaysia and the United States over the plundering of the fund.

But in a rare interview last month, he denied masterminding the fraud and said he was simply an "intermediary" sought after due to his relationships with influential figures.

In October, he struck a settlement with US authorities to forfeit assets worth US$700 million (S$980 million), including a Beverly Hills hotel and a private jet, as part of efforts to recover stolen cash.