Max Nova's Reviews > Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World

Billion Dollar Whale by Bradley Hope
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Remember that Leonard DiCaprio movie about financial malfeasance, "The Wolf of Wall Street"? Well, turns out that in our modern, through-the-looking-glass world, that film was financed with dirty money from the biggest financial heist of our decade! "Billion Dollar Whale" details an extravagant criminal entreprise that criss-crosses the globe and pulls Hollywood celebrities, prime ministers, Goldman Sachs bankers, and even Miranda Kerr - now wife of Snapchat bro Evan Spiegel - into its corrupting vortex. Wright and Hope help us track the ascent of Malaysian con-man Jho Low and unravel the complex financial chicanery that enabled him to siphon more than 5 billion dollars from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund. Brazen deception, bribery, well-paid complicity, and offshore finance all play vital roles in this drama. At one point, Jho Low straight up makes an offshore account called "Blackstone Asia Real Estate Partners" to deceive his partners into thinking that they're putting money into Blackstone when they're actually just lining his pockets. You can't make this stuff up.

This book deepened my conviction that offshore finance and pools of dark money are one of the greatest threats to good governance. Jho Low was a master at hiding money overseas (see Treasure Islands for more on offshore finance) and the authors help us understand the complex money trail that obscures a simpler story. As I see it, Jho Low got Najib Razak (Malaysia's Prime Minister) to sell out his country. Razak handed over the reins of Malaysia's sovereign wealth fund (1MDB) to Jho Low in return for over a billion dollars of secret kickbacks to his personal bank account and the ability to draw on 1MDB as a political slush fund. Jho Low then partnered with Tim Leissner at Goldman Sachs to raise billions in international markets by selling bonds that relied on the underlying credit rating of Malaysia as a sovereign state (reminds me of Robert Moses in The Power Broker). Low used the proceeds as his personal piggy bank to fuel a partying and spending spree reminiscent of the Gilded Age. And of course, Goldman Sachs was well-compensated for its efforts to "monetize the state," as the company calls it internally.

As in the Theranos saga (see my review of Bad Blood), Jho Low's fraud was publicly exposed in the Wall Street Journal - an insitution which deserves some serious credit for breaking two of the biggest financial scandals this decade. Like Holmes, Low also turned to the flexible attorneys at Boies, Schiller & Flexner to defend himself. Funny to see the same names come up again and again...

And of course, no one is doing any jail time for this. Malaysia's political elite mortgaged the future of their country and left their citizens to foot the bill. It's disgusting. And while the US is now shunning Malaysian corruption, the Chinese government has slid right in to fill the gap (just like the dynamic The Looting Machine describes in Africa). What a world.
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Reading Progress

October 18, 2018 – Started Reading
October 18, 2018 – Shelved
October 23, 2018 – Finished Reading

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