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Book Review #66 – Billion Dollar Whale- The Man who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope

Billion Dollar Whale is the story of Jho Low – who as it says on the book cover, is the man who fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the world. This book, that you can buy here, narrates the incredible story of the man who pulled off the biggest money heist of the century.

Jho Low allegedly stole $4.5bn from the development fund of Malaysia, 1MDB.

In the multi-billion-dollar scam, money was lost somewhere between off-shore accounts, shell companies, Hollywood celebrities, the Middle East and Wall Street. The money involved Prime Minister Najib Razak and was used in financing Hollywood films, purchasing international properties, jets, yachts, and throwing extravaganza parties.

Low is a man with a ‘plump face and cuddly demeanour’ and was called ‘panda’ by his friends. His child-like face makes it impossible to see the mind of a corporate criminal. According to the authors, he was a ‘serial fabulist who figured how the world works.’

As Wright and Hope start to tell the story, they take us to Penang, the place where the story of Jho Low started. Low grew with money, not Crazy Rich Asian money but his father had earned millions of dollars. He grew among elite Malaysians residing in England, and he learned the art of blending in the posh circles from there.

Low‘s whole plan was based on one formula: making the rich friends in the right places. This started from Penang as a student and continued as he went to the Middle East. There, he became a friend with Otabia, a very rich Arabian. Otabia played an important role in introducing Jho to some of the most influential families in the Middle East.

Jho continued making money by inviting his rich friends from the Middle East to invest in Malaysia. As he continued to grow, he met and got involved with Najib. He also set off-shore accounts for Najib and his wife Rosmah. Jho kept going playing little tricks here and there and meanwhile focusing on forming new relations and friendships in the places of power.

As money started piling up from the 1MDB funds, Jho started living life like the ‘Malaysian Prince’ he always claimed to be. This involved excessive parties, aristocratic clubs and hanging out with celebrities.

The 25th birthday of Jho Low could be the most expensive birthday party in the world.

Spoiler Alert: It starred celebrities like Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Robert De Niro, and Dicaprio. The love-duo of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian was also spotted. While I don’t know if there was a gift table there, however, according to the book, a hot red Lamborghini, three Ducati bikes and a 2.5 million dollar Bugatti Veyron were some of the best gifts.

Back from the party, the embezzlement continued as Jho kept buying properties in the richest cities of the world. He was now trying to get the relationship between Malaysia and the United States. In 2010, Jho formed a production country called Red Granite that gave him the official ticket to Hollywood. He was financing ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ at that time.

The partying and spending didn’t go unnoticed by the investors in the Middle East. People could smell the money and the corruption, so a few investors left but many more joined. By 2012, Jho had got the a very prominent Sheikh from UAE to invest in 1MDB.

Jho then invested money, time and energy to get Najib re-elected. They succeeded and Najib got re-elected. Jho continued gathering money and buying lands, assets, and artefacts. He also invested in the re-election of Obama and tried to cultivate friendship between Obama and Najib.

Meanwhile, a reporter from BBC, Rewcastle-Brown started digging information from Jho’s s partner and friend since Penang Riza Aziz. She started looking for the source of money and raised suspicion against Low.

Rewcastle-Brown’s investigation took her to Tong Kooi Ong the owner of The Edge Newspaper who was already suspicious of the shady money activities in 1MDB. Together, Brown and Ong unveiled the ‘biggest heist of the century.’

As the FBI continues to investigate Jho Low, Najib Razak, and other accomplices in the 1MDB scandal, Low remains a fugitive. He is reported to be in China and living a life of luxury.

Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, from Wall Street, did extensive research to write this book. According to them, it took them 4 years to complete the book and this involved ‘hundreds of interviews in dozens of countries.’

The story has all the spice of a thriller movie. It involves a corrupt prime minister, lots of rich friends, and a well-played scheme. Unlike your favourite movies, the man in this story schemed a ‘global heist’. There is also the unexpected twist when an innocent, harmless-looking man is found as the mastermind. There are rappers, A-list celebrities, Sheikhs, princes, luxuries, and parties.

It is interesting, it is exciting, and it is unbelievable! Things like this don’t happen every day, and books like ‘Billion Dollar Whale’ aren’t written every day.

Reviewed by;

Tonny Rutakirwa,


Tonniez Group Holdings,

Serving since 28th December 2008.


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