The book explores the story of a mysterious character, Jho Low, who was able to funnel billions of dollars from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB into his personal accounts in the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands (among other places) through extremely complex financial and social manipulation.
Jho Low, was not an investor, capitalist, or stock trader. He was a thief.
He came from a moderately wealthy family in Malaysia that had great aspirations. His family sent him to an extremely expensive and exclusive boarding school in England where many billionaires send their children. At this school Low learned about how the global elite live. He wanted that life too.
He began aggressively cultivating relationships with wealthy and powerful people at the boarding school and continued to do so in college and beyond. A key part of his modus operandi was making a show of being wealthier than he was and using his existing connections to provide legitimacy for new connections. It was like a ponzi scheme of relationships.
Low used his connections with wealthy middle eastern sovereign wealth fund managers, with the Malaysian prime minister and his family, with celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, and with various bankers and financiers around the world to vouch for him and to provide cover and sense of legitimacy as he transferred hundreds of millions of dollars out of 1MDB into shell companies and then from shell companies into legitimate bank accounts.
In Great Gatsby style, Low used his money to gamble, to spend millions of dollars on one-night parties he often spent more time observing than celebrating, to jet all over the world, to pay for the Malaysian First Lady to buy tens of millions of dollars of jewelry and high-end clothing and other accessories, to buy part of a large music company, to buy multiple houses in multiple cities around the world, and to form his own movie production company, Red Granite, which ironically enough produced The Wolf of Wall Street…
The gall and arrogance of this heist is breath-taking. The way he wasted the money he stole is sickening. Billion Dollar Whale made me think harder about the global elite: who they are, how they live, and whether we should worry about them.