In what’s being described as a landmark ruling in Kuwait, the courts have in the past hours handed down a crushing guilty verdict against the once all-powerful son of a former prime minister, Sheikh Sabah Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah.
The royal businessman has been sentenced to ten years in jail for having cooperated with Jho Taek Low, proxy to the convicted ex-Malaysian PM, Najib Razak, in laundering hundreds of millions of ringgit looted from the Malaysian public.
At stake, at the very least, is a stunning RM2 billion/(KD 145 million) cited by the courts as remaining in the guilty man’s bank bank account, although the judgement also confirms that over a billion dollars were in fact laundered through it. Moreover, Sarawak Report has reported on several other related accounts holding further stolen cash that were not apparently included within the prosecution.
Also convicted were Jho Low himself, the Sheikh’s personal lawyer, a college friend of Jho Low’s and continuing business partner, Hamad Al Wazan* and a former business associate of the Sheikh, Bachar Kiwan, who fled Kuwait at the time of the crime, having fallen foul of the criminal gang.
All were sentenced to the same ten year jail term – this being the first actual sentencing in absentia of Malaysia’s world famous financial fraudster, Jho Low, in a foreign court.
Bachar Kiwan, who now resides in Paris, believes he is protected on the grounds he is a political target of the sheikh and his family. He was a key source for Sarawak Report which first broke the story of the scandalous affair back in 2020.
Until the series of ground-breaking articles in Sarawak Report there had been no action taken by the Kuwaiti authorities to investigate the suspicious transactions involving billions of Yuan passing through Chinese bank accounts owned by the Sheikh.
At the time Sheikh Sabah’s father remained prime minister and their branch of the family held enormous sway.
What our reporting was able to establish was that much of this cash related to an elaborate cover-up scam conducted by the then Malaysian PM Najib Razak and his right hand man in the 1MDB heist, Jho Low, using money looted from the public purse in yet another abuse of Najib’s public position as Minister of Finance.
It was Sarawak Report which first detailed how, in an effort to raise money to pay for 1MDB’s gaping debts caused by the theft of billions of dollars from the bogus development fund, Najib had set about subverting public contracts with Chinese companies, which then colluded in back-channelling the extra payments to the Sheikh’s front companies in Kuwait.
Sheikh Sabah in turn funnelled much of the money back to Malaysia to pay the debts.
One key example was the East Coast Rail Link contract with the Chinese state company CCCC. Following several visits to China by Jho Low Najib announced in 2016 that he was doubling the size of the contract owing to an alleged inflation of the costs. Yet, Sarawak Report was soon alerted to the fact that a secret agreement had been arrived at with CCCC to use the extra money to pay 1MDB debts.
In 2020 Sarawak Report exposed how the money was laundered through Sheikh Sabah. We detailed how a CCCC subsidiary based in Hong Kong had made bogus contracts with a front company, Al Asbah, set up by the Sheikh in order to process a whopping billion dollars into his account at the Chinese bank ICBC in Kuwait.
The Kuwaiti authorities had apparently done nothing to investigate these suspicious transactions nor was action taken at the time of the original reporting of these crimes by Sarawak Report.
Sheikh’s Sabah’s father remained prime prime minister until later that year and no moves appear to have been made on the case until he was removed from office following a separate corruption scandal for which he was later charged.
On the other hand, Bachar Kiwan had been arrested on false allegations and imprisoned and tortured after protesting over the Malaysian transactions. He later escaped and was found in a European court to be the victim of political persecution.
Sarawak Report then went on to report how the money that had arrived with Sheikh Sabah was then back-channelled through a Cayman Island shell company owned by the Sheikh (Silk Road Southeast Asia Real Estate Ltd), which purported to buy land in Air Itam owned by 1MDB.
The money from that bogus purchase (the land title was never passed to the Sheikh) was then funnelled immediately to Abu Dhabi to repay debts allegedly owing to IPIC in return for its having bailed out 1MDB’s debts. (IPIC has recently paid out a significant settlement to Malaysia over its role in colluding with this fraudulent exercise).
Today, the Kuwaiti lawyer, Saud Abdelmohsan, involved in that transaction was also sentenced by the court to 7 years for his involvement in the crime.
Sarawak Report went on in a further series of exclusive reports to detail other collaborations between these partners in crime, whereby Jho Low utilised his arrangement with the Sheikh to front payments to lawyers and PR companies in the United States, to purchase the New York Park Lane Hotel, and to launder cash through various off-shore entities.
This was all in an effort by Jho Low to meet payments that had become increasingly difficult as the international banking system closed its doors against the by now exposed Malaysian fraudster.
The collaboration of the now imprisoned Malaysian prime minister himself in all these corrupt practices is, if possible, even more clear and obvious than his original orchestration of the original scandal. Najib went on to commission two pipeline projects in Malaysia for which he up-fronted a staggering 88% of the money to related Chinese contractors which likewise back channelled the money to Sheikh Sabah (a total of at least two billion dollars is at stake).
Indeed, Najib’s deep involvement in the cover-up only goes to further confirm his knowing participation in the original scandal, which he continues to pretend he knew nothing about. The Kuwait conspiracy represents a whole separate phase of looting and criminal activity by the former prime minister cum finance minister that followed upon the original crimes.
The glaring nature of Najib’s guilt sheds further light on the manner in which this case has been subsequently handled both by Malaysia and Kuwait.
It was not until the PH government came into office in 2018 that the Malaysian authorities officially began to investigate 1MDB and the misuse of the monies raised through the ECRL and pipe line contracts. The MACC asked for mutual assistance from Kuwait.
However, at the time the Gulf state was still in the thrall of its own former prime minster, father of Jho’s collaborator Sheikh Sabah.
Despite all the exposes by Sarawak Report, which included the astonishing revelation that one of Jho’s oldest friends from college in America, Hamad Al Wazan, had become the Sheikh’s business advisor and co-signatory on an account that was laundering the Malaysian money, the MACC under PH received no response to its requests for mutual assistance.
Only after a new reforming government came into office in Kuwait in late 2020 did this change. Investigations were launched and the official agencies reached out to Sarawak Report and others to ascertain the facts. By 2021 the authorities in Kuwait were ready to collaborate at last with the Malaysians to discuss the misappropriation of Malaysia’s public money through accounts based in Kuwait.
However, by this time the PN government was in office in collaboration with Najib’s own party BN. Sarawak Report is reliably informed that Kuwait received no useful collaboration from the Malaysians during this period in terms of seeking to return the nation’s stolen billions.
Sarawak Report can only surmise that the failure to act on this matter by Malaysia owed directly to the desire of Najib and his BN allies who were propping up the Muhyiddin government to cover up this further evidence of corruption by Najib. Indeed one witness from Kuwait has confirmed the MACC made clear to them in 2022 that the AG would not approve taking actions that would further expose Najib and enquiries were dropped last September.
This lack of meaningful collaboration has apparently continued till this day, leaving the Kuwaiti authorities to proceed with this case without Malaysian cooperation and indeed without Malaysia having made a proper claim on the money it is owed.
Indeed, reports in the Kuwait media today make clear that this is the case, leading to a clear exasperation on the part of the Kuwait authorities at the “failure to receive information from international parties” (for which read lack of cooperation from Malaysia) :
The Criminal Court ruled that a sheikh, his partner [Hamad Al Wazzan], and two expatriates [Jho Low and Bachar Kiwan] be imprisoned for 10 years and a lawyer [Saud Abdelmohsan] for 7 years, obliging them to return one billion dollars and fine them jointly an amount of 145 million Kuwaiti dinars, equivalent to half a billion dollars, in the largest money laundering case known as the “Malaysian Fund”.
The Public Prosecution had reopened the file of the “Malaysian Fund” case, after a two-year hiatus due to the failure to receive information from international parties, but the case was not filed, but rather frozen due to the lack of information during the previous period.
Investigations showed that nearly a billion dollars entered the account of an effective Kuwaiti person [Sheikh Sabah], and then it was re-transferred abroad. [translated from Kuwait media outlet alqabas]
Evidence made available to Sarawak Report makes clear that not only is the RM2 billion plainly money that ought to be returned to Malaysia, but that several times this amount is due, having been looted from Malaysia owing to gross failures of due diligence by the Chinese ICBC bank and Kuwaiti authorities who failed in their oversight of a powerful politically exposed person in the state.
Sarawak Report suggests that although this particular case is now closed, these convictions have opened a whole new chapter in the investigation into Malaysia’s missing cash and into its former prime minister, who still seeks to escape his sentence on the basis he knew nothing of what went on over 1MDB.
*The London libel lawyers, Taylor Wessing, launched an egregious Slapp suit against Sarawak Report for reporting on Hamad Al Wazzan’s role in this affair, seeking to force this site to remove all references to their client. This eventually time expired before being taken to court.