Fugitive financier Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, may have assumed a new identity to evade arrest after his superyacht Equanimity was seized. Police and immigration departments in Malaysia and Singapore assigned to track the fugitive implicated in the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal 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.
His elusiveness, said the source, prompted authorities in both countries to request for 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 said that since the Equanimity was seized by the Indonesian authorities, Low was spotted in Phuket, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Shanghai.
“Despite the Red Notice, the wanted businessman has managed to elude the authorities,” said the source.
However, from initial details pieced together, investigators believe Low has changed his appearance and is slipping in and out of these countries using multiple passports. The source said aside from the Saint Kitts and Nevis passport Low used, the authorities are also looking at the possibility that he is holding 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,” said the source.
A Kuala Lumpur-based plastic surgeon said with the money Low has, an operation to alter his appearance would be small change for him.
“To change a chubby round face to oval or diamond-shaped would cost him between US$10,000 (about RM40,000) and US$20,000 (RM80,000),” 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, explained that 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.
The security expert, who declined to be named, said such travellers can have a cup of coffee at the lounge and before they can finish their drink, immigration clearance would have been obtained.
“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,” he said.
On Thursday, Immigration director-general Datuk Seri Mustafar Ali said Low is 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 is said to have slipped out of Macau after police went there to look for him. Low who had gotten wind of the police operation to apprehend him in Hong Kong escaped to Macau.
The Star reported on Thursday that Low is said to be heading towards Bangkok but it was not certain if he arrived there.He has a family house in Bangkok and has been seen in the Thai capital frequently over the years. Low is now believed to be at Saint Kitts and Nevis as he has no place to run to because of the Red Notice.
Fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, or better known as Jho Low, may have had help to evade international law enforcement officials. His movements may have been coordinated by hired experts, using channels already put in place by transnational criminal groups.
SEA regional director for the International Association of Counterterrorism and Security Professionals, Centre for Security Studies, Andrin Raj, said there were experts who were well-versed with the channels commonly used by narcotics and weapon smugglers, and human traffickers.
Raj shared with the New Straits Times two routes which Low could have taken to flee Macau for Saint Kitts and Nevis, an island nation in the West Indies where Low is said to be a permanent resident after owning properties there.
He could have used a combination of water and land routes from Macau and the North Pacific Ocean routes to get to North America and travel downwards on the Caribbean island routes to reach St Kitts and Nevis.