PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The hunt for fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, wanted in a global corruption probe in connection with the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund, is now shifting to the West Indies islands.
The Star on Thursday (July 12) reported a source as saying that Low, better known as Jho Low, could have fled to the Saint Kitts and Nevis islands, a small nation in the West Indies, where he holds citizenship. The islands have been dubbed as one of the world's millionaire playgrounds.
"Low is a citizen of Saint Kitts and Nevis and has properties on Saint Kitts island. The authorities believe he is likely to head there to seek refuge as he has nowhere else to run to," said the source.
"The doors for him to hide in many other countries across South-east Asia, China and the Middle East have been shut. Returning to Saint Kitts and Nevis, where he is a citizen, would be the best next option," said the source.
"From there, he can hop to the many surrounding island countries, where law enforcement there is said to be lax."
Malaysia does not have an extradition treaty with many of these island nations.
Last month, Low's Malaysian passport was cancelled by the Immigration Department to restrict his movements as the authorities tried to track him down.
With a Saint Kitts and Nevis passport, a citizen can travel without a visa to over 140 countries, including Canada, Britain and Europe.
The source said Saint Kitts and Nevis citizenship and its passport could be easily obtained through a US$250,000 (S$340,490) cash donation to the country's Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation or by buying real estate worth at least US$400,000. The source said Low went for the second option.
Media reports on Wednesday (July 11) had said Low had gone to China after fleeing from Macau. But the South China Morning Post on Thursday cited a Chinese official as saying he was "definitely is not in mainland China".
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 a central figure who set up shell companies and arranged the transfers of tens of millions of dollars to pay Malaysian government officials while Singapore investigators have called him a "key person of interest".
The source said Low had been "island hopping" in Indonesia on his superyacht, Equanimity, for about four months before it was seized by the police in February.
"For about four months, Low travelled to places like Maluku Islands, West Papua, Nusa Tenggara, Komodo Island and Lombok, spending his time in the sun," said the source.
The source said he had spent time sailing through the islands between last October and February to evade the authorities.
The Cayman-registered yacht returned to the Tanjung Benoa port in Bali monthly for refuelling and restocking of food supplies. At one point, it spent three days on the island, where Low ushered in 2018.
"Low, Equanimity and its crew sailed the Flores, Bali and Bandar Seas, anchoring near some of Indonesia's exotic and remote islands, only to return to Bali for one or two days for fuel and food."
The source added that after the yacht was seized on Feb 8, Low managed to escape the Bali police dragnet and flee to Macau.
Four days later, he was spotted in a hotel there, celebrating the birthday of his trusted accomplice Eric Tan.
Tan, who has also been on the run since May 2016, is wanted in Malaysia and Singapore over the 1MDB investigation.
Among those who attended Tan's birthday party were hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz and singer Nicole Scherzinger, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
The source said Low had lived in Macau, Shanghai and Bangkok between March and mid-April before being spotted in Phuket, from where he allegedly monitored Malaysia's 14th General Election closely.
When the Barisan Nasional coalition lost, the source said Low left for Macau and Taiwan at the end of May, subsequently moving to live in Hong Kong but visiting Macau regularly.
Last week, he fled Hong Kong and headed to Macau after he got wind of the Malaysian police looking for him in the former British colony.
Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun said on Wednesday that the police had received an e-mail from the Macau authorities, informing them that Low had left the former Portuguese colony.
The source said Low left on a private jet and had been headed for Thailand, although it was unclear where exactly he landed.
"Low has a family house in Bangkok and has been seen in the capital city on many occasions. He could be in Thailand, but we don't think he would go there now," said the source.
Malaysia has applied for a Red Notice to seek assistance from countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, India, Myanmar, China and Hong Kong via Interpol, and Taiwan via diplomatic channels to arrest Low.