PETALING JAYA • The hunt for fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, wanted to assist in a global corruption probe into state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), is now shifting to the West Indies islands.
A source has told The Star 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 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 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 could be easily obtained by donating cash of US$250,000 (S$340,490) to the country's Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation or buying real estate worth at least US$400,000.
The source said Low, 37, went for the second option.
According to the South China Morning Post, Low had been "hiding in plain sight" in Hong Kong for months before recently heading to Macau after getting wind Malaysian police were on to him.
He reportedly fled Macau this week for China, but a Chinese official told the Post on Wednesday that Low "definitely is not in mainland China".
The state fund 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.
The source said Low, who has been evading the authorities since May 2016, had been "island-hopping" in Indonesia on his super-yacht, Equanimity, for about four months before it was seized by police in Bali 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.
Days after the yacht was seized, Low was spotted in Macau celebrating the birthday of his close associate, Eric Tan. Tan, also on the run since May 2016, is wanted in Malaysia and Singapore over the 1MDB investigation.
The source said Low had lived in Macau, Shanghai and Bangkok between March and mid-April, before being spotted in Phuket in May, from where he monitored Malaysia's general election.
Low later moved to Hong Kong, visiting Macau regularly.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK