After Jho Low and his partners from PetroSaudi had completed the 1MDB deal, the management of public perceptions about what had happened clearly became crucial.
The joint venture buccaneers can soon be seen to have started to wield the most extraordinary influence over the presentation of 1MDB and then even the management of Malaysia/Saudi relations, through their manipulation of their alleged contacts through PetroSaudi boss Tarek Obaid and his largely inactive partner, Prince Turki.
Jho Low had already played shamelessly on Prince Turki’s connections to give the impression to 1MDB that the joint venture was linked with state to state relations, implying that he was acting on behalf of the Prime Minister of Malaysia and the father of the Saudi Prince, King Abdullah.
This is what he wrote to 1MDB CEO Shahrol Halmi on Sept 18th, introducing him to PetroSaudi executives
“I am pleased to confirm as per YAB Prime Minister’s discussions with HM King Abdullah Al-Saud on furthering Saudi-Malaysia bi-lateral ties, together with YAB PM’s discussions with HRH Prince Turki Al-Saud, PetroSaudi and 1MDB is on track with respect to your USd2.5b JVC partnership. “
This impression was also played up to the press at the launch of the deal, although the partners at PetroSaudi showed themselves notably anxious to avoid as much publicity as possible.
As PetroSaudi Director Patrick Mahony had put it to CEO Shahrol Halmi on Sept 21st:
“With regard to liaising with Robert [press advisor] on what we can release to the media, I will be the point person. I would suggest you send to me a draft of what you would like to release and we will let you know if it works for us. PSI is very press shy and usually never announces our investments (one of the main reasons governments like to work with us) but we understand you will need to make some statements and we would be happy to make them jointly with you.”
However, on the day of the deal, Halmi warned the team at PetroSaudi in an email that, despite their reluctance to involve Prince Turki, the Prime Minister had insisted on a “quote” from the Prince to make it appear that the Government of Saudi Arabia was involved in the private deal.
Interestingly, both sets of collaborators were not keen on the matter being played up to the international press, they just wanted to foster the concept of Saudi investment for local consumption.
From: Shahrol @ Hotmail [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Tuesday, 29 September, 2009 4:36 PM
To: Patrick Mahony
Cc: Casey Tang; Robert Ho
Subject: joint press release
Hi Patrick, can you help take a look and see if this is ok? The PM insisted on the quote from HRH Prince Turki and the equity figures. This statement is going to be released only to the local media, but there is no guarantee that the wire services won ’t pick it up. Planning to send this out late morning tomorrow, Malaysia time.
Joint Press Statement by PetroSaudi International and 1Malaysia Development Berhad
PetroSaudi International Limited and 1Malaysia Development Berhad in US$2.5 billion joint venture Partnership, opens new door to FDIs
KUALA LUMPUR, 30 September 2009: Malaysia and Saudi Arabia today entered a new era of economic cooperation with the setting up of a US$2.5 billion joint venture company, which will spearhead flow of foreign direct investments from the Middle East as well as well as make strategic investments in high-impacts projects here.
The partnership between Malaysia Development Berhad ( “1MDB ”) and PetroSaudi International Limited ( “PSI ”) involves the creation of a joint venture company ( “JVC ”) with an initial capital of US$2.5 billion in which 1MDB and PSI will be contributing US$1.0 billion and US$1.5 billion in equity respectively.
This venture is the first undertaken by PSI in this region and underscores the confidence Saudi Arabia has in Malaysia and economic prospects here.
The 1MDB is wholly owned by the Government of Malaysia and was established recently to drive strategic initiatives for long-term sustainable economic development and promote in flow of FDI into the country. PSI, based in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, is mandated to carry out investments which can strengthen the relationships between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and key countries worldwide.
The JVC ’s objective is to seek, explore, and participate in business and economic opportunities which results in the enhancement of and promotion of the future prosperity and long-term sustainable economic d evelopment of Malaysia. It is also expected to actively make investments in the renewable energy sector.
The JVC is also expected to be a vehicle for investments from the Middle East into the region, thereby giving Malaysia the edge in drawing investments from the cash and resource-rich region.
PSI ’s Chairman HRH Prince Turki Bin Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud said: “Malaysia has long been a model of stability and development for developing countries. We believe that recent economic liberalisation policies announced by the Prime Minister will only make Malaysia a more attractive place for investors. We envisage Malaysia becoming an important partner for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Also lauding the setting up of the JVC was 1MDB ’s Chairman Dato’ Mohd Bakke Salleh.
He said: “The JVC is set to further increase foreign direct investment from the Middle East, in particular Saudi Arabia. We will leverage on PSI ’s strong international presence, their networks and expertise to promote Malaysia as the preferred investment destination. ”
The JVC will initiate various projects in multiple sectors which are mutually beneficial as well as in line with 1MDB ’s mission to drive long-term sustainable economic development in Malaysia.” [press release officially put out on Sept 30th by 1MDB]
In response, PetroSaudi Director Patrick Mahony warned his own team (and his boss Rick Haythornewaite) to say nothing to journalists and to indicate to ‘bhe’ [Buried Hill Enterprises] that the deal was about waste management.
Buried Hill was the company which actually owned the Caspian Sea concession on which PetroSaudi had based its vastly inflated valuation. Perhaps it can be concluded that Buried Hill were unaware on how this association had been played up to the Malaysians?
” If any journalists ask, it is no comment. If bhe asks us, please say this jv is more around our waste management business and other areas of interest. Main point is to not comment to media and not say anything about numbers. Many thanks [Patrick Mahoney to his team – Sept 30 2009]
As part of the image building around this joint venture, Jho Low can soon be seen getting stuck into arrangements surrounding the January 2010 visit to Saudi Arabia by Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah.
Far from the “zero involvement” claimed, Jho Low can be seen to have been in the thick of these negotiations, making key initial introductions regarding this country to country diplomatic venture and putting the PM’s office in touch with the King’s staff via his contact with Tarek Obaid.
What was the Embassy up to?
Subject: Greetings and Introduction
Dear Mr. Jamal Kashoggi,
My name is Wan Ahmad Shihab and I am the Special Officer to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the Hon. Mr. Najib Razak.
I was given your e-mail by Mr. Jho Low, so that we may begin communicating with each other on preparations for the interview with the Prime Minister scheduled for December 14th, 2009.
I am currently travelling with the Prime Minister and will return to Malaysia by December 1st, but please do not hesitate to contact me for any assistance which you may require leading up to the interview, and we will be happy assist you in whatever way we can.
Please find below all of my contact details should you need to reach me at any time.
I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.
Wan Ahmad Shihab Ismail
Special Officer to the Prime Minister
Level 4, Prime Minister’s Office
Office: +603 8888 1433
Mobile 1: +6019 2633 488
Mobile 2: :+60193137047
Official e-mail: wan[email protected]
Email correspondence even shows that Jho Low composed a letter on the 19th November 2010 on behalf of Najib Razak to be sent to the King. The ever helpful Li Lin Seet drew up the draft, while the entrepreneur involved himself in the timings of the arrangements:
Fyi attached. Comments pls.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile
Subject: Emailing: Letter to KSA v2.docx
Change mid-dec to early next year
His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
I have the honour to convey to Your Majesty the gratitude and appreciation of the Government and people of Malaysia to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for the services extended to the Guests of Allah from Malaysia who travelled to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform the Haj and Umrah. Despite the public health challenges posed by the H1N1 flu situation, Your Majesty increased the Malaysian pilgrims Haj quota for the 1430H haj season by 10,000 to 38,000 pilgrims.
On the issue of Yemeni Houthis rebels and their attacks on the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Government of Malaysia firmly condemns such violations. We unreservedly support the tough actions taken by Your Majesty in ensuring the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the GCC against such despicable acts of violence.
I will also like to congratulate Your Majesty on the inauguration of King Abdullah Science and Technology University. The unparalleled facilities and world-class faculty assembled will no doubt provide intellectual fruits and technological advancements to benefit all mankind in generations to come.
Also, Your Majesty’s pro-business development policies have greatly benefitted both the public and private sectors of Malaysia. 1MDB, a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund has formed a joint-venture with PetroSaudi International to capitalize on global investment opportunities for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. MMC Corporation Berhad, a Malaysian company, has the privilege of partnering the Saudi Binladin Group to jointly develop and manage the new Jazan Economic City. These are just some examples of the ever-improving bilateral relationships and trade ties between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.
Malaysia is currently developing several economic zones such as the Iskandar Development Region in Johor and the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy and it will be interesting if I can have an audience with Your Majesty to share your wisdom on various economic policies, such as the conception of the King Abdullah Economic City, and political issues during my visit to the GCC in early next year. I can also take the opportunity to update Your Majesty on various developments that I am undertaking in Malaysia.
May Allah the Almighty continues to bestow upon Your Majesty His guidance and blessings for Your Majesty’s leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in particular and the Islamic world in general.
With Respect and Best Wishes.
Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib bin tun Abdul Razak
It seems that such was the youthful entrepreneur’s influence that he had gone from determining economic policy to foreign policy – and he had got in a handy plug for his other master Taib Mahmud and his pet SCORE plan as well!
The Malaysian PM, naturally, did achieve a meeting with the Saudi Arabian leadership. But, it had nothing to do with the PetroSaudi joint venture, although the Malaysian press continued to be spun the impression it was.
Intriguingly, just in advance of the meeting, Jho Low sent a ‘Very Private and Confidential Note” to Tarek Obaid about the meeting, purporting to have been speaking to “Mdm”.
Given Jho Low’s close relations to his friend Riza’s mother, there will be speculation that the message reflects the wife of the Prime Minister’s agenda for the visit….
In which case, the references to the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is now controversially languishing in jail, are particularly significant. Because, “Mdm” was clearly fearful and jealous of Anwar’s perceived influence in the Middle East and wanted him crushed.
From: Low Jho
To: Tarek Al-Obaid
Date: Sat, 26 Dec 2009 12:26:39 +0000
Subject: VERY PNC NOTE
VERY PNC NOTE, delete post reading:
This is a very “focused & effective” trip. Objective is not MOU or general business ties.
Specific that PM is seeing the 3 highest levels in Saudis (one on one) being the King, Crown Prince and Prince Naif while First Lady sees the Queen and Crown Princess to build “effective ties”.
One on one discussions ensure “more open and frank discussions” to enhance “personal ties”. That is most important.
Will encourage Saudis to use words like “personal”, “trust”, “friendship”, “bond”, “ties”, etc… You get the gist of it. – the objective of visit is so that when PM is done with this visit:
a. Top 3 leaders in Saudi knows that PM is a trusted ally and someone they can pick up the phone and chat to re anything in Asia and beyond
b. Malaysians will realise from King Abdullah’s statements that it is a very personal relationship with PM and things happen because of that personal trust (award further substantiates that)
c. Quietly, Anwar is full of lies and for all those that believe Anwar has strong ties with the top leadership with Saudi, that is complete nonsense and people will tell over time he is a complete liar and lose all sense of credibility in Middle-East (his only last stand left beyond usa). If senior leadership in Saudi and Abu Dhabi make it quietly known to their friends in the gulf re their views on Anwar, he is history and even key business supporters will stay away from him knowing the position of the big boys.
Following this meeting there were numerous reports in the Malaysian press implying that Saudi Arabia and Malaysia were building ties and that the joint venture with PetroSaudi was involved.
Meanwhile, the increasingly wealthy and influential Jho Low was also apparently setting about doing diplomatic favours in the other direction.
In November 2009, Saudi Director of PetroSaudi, Tarek Obaid, whose brother is senior in the Saudi Governement, was asking Jho to organise a diplomatic favour after the Saudis had launched controversial attacks into North Yemen:
From: “Tarek Obaid” <[email protected]>
Subject: Saudi Announcement
To: Low, Jho (Personal)
Date: Fri, 13 Nov 2009 21:03:00 +0000
Dear Joe :-
Further to our discussion today, it would be highly appreciated if Malaysia could issue a strong statement of support to Saudi Arabia and it’s recent military operations and categorically condemn the incursions into Saudi territory of the Northern Yemeni rebel group known as the Houthis.
Please find below a draft statement that the Malaysian Prime Minister should issue in this regard.
Malaysia strongly condemns the criminal acts carried out by armed men from the Houthi rebel group in North Yemen who recently crossed and infiltrated the Jizan region in Saudi Arabian territory. Malaysia firmly supports the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s actions and categorically rejects any attack against any part of Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has the full right to defend its territories and safeguard the safety of it’s citizens. Saudi Arabia under the wise leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz has a special standing in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world and it’s stability is of critical global importance.
Six days later it appears that Jho Low was able to deliver:
By this time, of course, the fun loving young billionaire’s influence was assured as the key contact man between Najib, Rosmah and the Middle East.
In the wake of their handsome joint venture deal the PetroSaudi team hired one of the most expensive yachts in the world for a jaunt in the Mediterranean – and who should they invite and entertain for a week that summer on the Tatoosh, but the Prime Minister of Malaysia and his wife?
Naturally, Tarek’s well-connected friend, the founder of PetroSaudi, son of the then King of Saudi Arabia was also there.
Reportedly, there have been further Mediterranean cruises of this nature between Jho Low, Rosmah and Najib, the last being last summer when the couple controversially chose a charged political moment during the disappearance of the jet MH 370 to leave Malaysia and enjoy the sundeck instead with their now close friend Jho Low and his Saudi contacts.
From: Low Jho
Date: Sun, 27 Dec 2009 03:29:32 +0000
Subject: Re: Pictures from South of France (PM Najib & HRH Prince Turki)
Thanks so much Wan!
From: [email protected]
To: Tarek Al-Obaid
ReplyTo: [email protected]
Subject: Re: Pictures from South of France (PM Najib & HRH Prince Turki)
Sent: Dec 26, 2009 11:25 PM
Dear Jho and Mr. Tarek Al Obeid,
It would be a pleasure to email you the photos of HRH. Unfortunately I am away with the Prime Minister at the moment whereas the photos are back in Malaysia and is not immediately accessible. I will send it through as soon as I return. Hope that’s alright.
May I take this opportunity to extend to you the season’s greetings and wish you a Happy New Year.
From: Low, Jho
Cc: Tarek Al-Obaid
ReplyTo: [email protected]
Subject: Pictures from South of France (PM Najib & HRH Prince Turki)
Sent: Dec 27, 2009 9:08 AM
Dear Mr. Wan Shihab,
Would you pls kindly email the pictures you have of The Hon PM Mohd Najib Razak with HRH Prince Turki Al-Saud and Sheikh Tarek Obaid asap? They wld like it strictly for their private records. I have cced Tarek on this email so you can email him and cc me asap.
Another key target of Jho Low and PetroSaudi’s diplomatic offensive appears to have been former prime minister Tony Blair.
In the wake of the joint venture deal PetroSaudi hired Blair as a consultant and also as a valuable PR protection for the deal – a connection that has been widely used to try and sway public opinion:
His association with PetroSaudi on a retainer of $65,000 a month and his offers to negotiate deals for the company with Chinese investors and to make introductions for PetroSaudi threatens to land the ex-PM in the latest round in the UK’s on-going ‘Cash for Access’ scandal.
Malaysians might say that the billion dollar scandal surrounding 1MDB make “cash for access” a minor problem by comparison.