Money is cheap when it’s not yours

Expensive gifts: Jho Low reportedly presented expensive paintings to DiCaprio (left) and US$8mil worth of diamonds to Kerr.

WHEN the money is not yours to begin with, there are no qualms about spending it. It does not matter if a hefty tip of a few hundred thousand is forked out to a waiter at the casino where you have run up a huge tab, or an expensive Ferrari is given as a wedding gift.

The money is not yours, so why bother with how you spend it? What you don’t earn through hard work and sweat is frittered away mercilessly without an ounce of guilt.

This is the real ugly side of the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) fiasco, as details on how the key characters charged with orchestrating the fall spent the money emerge.

In the last two weeks, three books have been released on the 1MDB fiasco and each of it reveals more details to the point of Malaysia becoming a laughing stock.

It has become moot to still question how money raised via 1MDB found its way to hosting expensive parties, entertaining a string of foreigners on a gambling streak in Las Vegas, and being splurged on costly cars and diamonds.

The report by the United States Department of Justice that is available easily on the Internet reveals those who benefited from the 1MDB funds, what they purchased from whom and at what price.

Investigations are still ongoing in relation to 1MDB, and so far, no charges have been pressed on the main characters – particularly Low Taek Jho, who is better known as Jho Low.

Jho Low has denied any wrongdoing, but refuses to turn up in Malaysia to answer charges.

The government has pointed its finger at former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who has also denied any wrongdoing in the 1MDB transactions. Najib, however, has been charged with matters relating to SRC International only so far.

What is baffling is how individuals involved in the 1MDB saga spent money without a tinge of fear of being caught or the entire scandal blowing up in their faces. They just thought that the people of Malaysia would continue to vote in the Barisan Nasional government and it would be business as usual.

Apart from presenting expensive paintings to actor Leonardo DiCaprio and US$8mil worth of diamonds to Miranda Kerr, Jho Low was reported to have presented a US$325,000 white Ferrari to Kim Kardashian, according to Richard Johnson of online portal Page Six.

On the local front, Malaysians have had a glimpse of the US$250mil (RM1.03bil) superyacht Equanimity that is described as a luxury yacht that was built with so much money that maintaining the expensive piece of vessel will cost the government a bomb.

The yacht was supposedly used by Jho Low and his Arab friends to entertain the well-connected, including previously powerful Malaysian families, while they holidayed in the Mediterranean.

In Singapore, a private jet, also purchased from the funds siphoned out of 1MDB, is waiting to be claimed.

So far, the Singapore government has said that it would return a sum of S$15.3mil (RM45.9mil) that was taken out of 1MDB and SRC International. The proceeds from all the recoveries would go into a special fund.

However, as pointed out by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, only 30% of what was taken out from 1MDB can be realistically recovered.

In the meantime, Malaysians are saddled with servicing and repaying debts of RM38bil that was racked up by 1MDB through government guarantees as of the end of last year.

The latest book on 1MDB – written by Tom Wright and Nicholas Hope of The Wall Street Journal – gives more details on money thrown on champagne, costly parties and making movies.

It starts off with Jho Low’s lavish 30th birthday party that had the who’s who of Hollywood attending, with performances by, among others, Britney Spears and Psy.

Much of them have been reported before. Nevertheless, the juicy details in the books would answer the questions of those still wondering why only some 30% of the RM38bil raised by 1MDB through government guarantees can be recovered.

A large sum of the money is gone. The US Department of Justice has seized assets that it says were purchased with money from 1MDB. However, the task of liquidating the assets would be difficult unless all legal cases tied to 1MDB are over.

It will take a long time to erase the 1MDB fiasco.But every time new pieces of information and narratives on how the money was spent come out, it simply is a reminder of how foolish the previous government was in not nipping the problem in the bud in 2010 when the first signs of trouble emerged. It was warned many times, but there was no political will to arrest the problem.

The BN, which is a pale shadow of its former self, has paid the price for it. The senior civil servants who tried to cover up the scandal are still paying the price.

However, the road is still fuzzy on whether the individuals responsible for the 1MDB fiasco would be hauled up and made to pay the price.

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