PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - 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, sources and experts say.
Police and immigration departments in Malaysia and Singapore assigned to track the 37-year-old believe Low could have had facial reconstruction surgery.
"We believe he may have altered his features and has assumed an alias," said a source.
The authorities also believe that Low 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.
His elusiveness, said the source, prompted the authorities in both countries to request Low's travel details and even his latest photo, captured at immigration checkpoints, to give them a clearer image of the flamboyant playboy.
"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 source.
The source also noted that since Low's yacht was seized by the Indonesian authorities, he has been spotted in Phuket, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Shanghai despite being on the notice issued by Interpol.
From initial details pieced together, investigators believe Low has changed his appearance and is slipping in and out of countries using multiple passports.
The source said that aside from the Saint Kitts and Nevis passport Low used, the authorities are also looking at the possibility that he holds other passports.
Low and his family members are said to have properties and financial assets in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand, said the source.
"He is also well connected in the United Arab Emirates and other Middle Eastern countries," the source said.
A Kuala Lumpur-based plastic surgeon said that with the money Low has, the cost of an operation to alter his appearance would be small change to him.
"To change a chubby, round face to oval or diamond-shaped would cost him between US$10,000 (S$13,700) and US$20,000," 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 just a few hours. "There are many renowned clinics in Thailand where Low could have had this done professionally," he said.
A Bangkok-based security expert, who specialises in travel arrangements, said Low could have also used "butler services" available to the rich and famous to avoid detection.
"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," he said.
"They don't have to stand and hand over their passport personally to immigration officers and wait for the documents to be checked and stamped," said the security expert, who declined to be named.
On Thursday, immigration director-general Mustafar Ali said Low was 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 located in the Caribbean.
Last week, Low was said to have slipped out of Macau, where he had fled to from Hong Kong to evade the police.
The Star reported on Thursday that Low was said to be heading towards Bangkok, where he has a house, but it was not clear if he made it.
Reserved maths whiz
Meanwhile, Low has been described as a reserved student who did extremely well in mathematics by one of his former teachers in Malaysia.
The teacher, who prefers to remain anonymous, told the New Straits Times (NST) on Friday (July 14) that Low did not mix much with many students but stuck to a few close friends.
“I know it sounds like a cliche, being Chinese and good in maths, but Low was different,” the retired teacher said.
He said Low’s math teachers told him that Low studied for lessons in advance and had no problem understanding mathematical concepts that were taught for the first time.
“He was a bright student overall, but his ability to grasp Mathematics was really something,” the ex-teacher told NST.
Low was born in Penang to a wealthy family. He studied at SJK (C) Union, Chung Ling High School, International School of Penang (Uplands) and Harrow School in London, NST said.
He did his undergraduate studies and obtained a Master’s Degree in Business Administration at Wharton Business School in the United States.
During his last visit to Penang in May 2013, Low donated RM1 million to his primary school.
“It is good that he came back and contributed to his old school, but I did not manage to meet him,” said the retired teacher.