Billion Dollar Whale is a fascinating story by two Wall Street Journal reporters. The “whale” is a pudgy Malaysian-Chinese guy named Jho Low. Aside from making friends with Arabs and stealing from Malaysian taxpayers, the authors don’t credit Mr. Low with any skills. Is that an obstacle to partying with movie stars and beautiful women?
Low rented a suite of rooms that cost $100,000 per month. The flashy new resident showed up at the building in a convoy of black Cadillac Escalades with a retinue of security, and he paid for a number of other apartments in the building for his entourage, which included Hamad Al Wazzan, his wealthy Kuwaiti friend from Wharton. Long-term residents complained about the bodyguards and the ostentation, but that was exactly Low’s aim: to show he had arrived. He began to spend eye-popping amounts, running up a $160,000 bar bill at Avenue, a new club in New York’s Chelsea district, on a single night during fall Fashion Week in 2009. On another occasion, Low sent twenty-three bottles of Cristal to actress Lindsay Lohan’s table when he spotted her during a night out in Manhattan.
It’s a little-discussed secret that even the biggest movie stars take payment to attend events, and Low began to seek out the managers of top actors, or pull on the Strategic Group’s network of club promoters, to get celebrities to his parties. The rumor that Low was a billionaire with unlimited funds made him an attractive person to know. Even for DiCaprio, one of the world’s top-paid actors, with a sizable fortune of his own, the scope of Low’s purported wealth was alluring. The night at the Palazzo in October 2009 was just the start of many parties the actor would enjoy with Low.
Robert De Niro, Charlize Theron, Swizz Beatz, Alicia Keys, and Jamie Foxx become some of the regulars as well.
Where do all of these folks hang out?
It was Fleet Week in Saint-Tropez, and the world’s superyachts vied for berthing space at the town’s marina. In July and August, the resort on the French Riviera, centered around a warren-like medieval old town of ochre-colored houses and old churches, is heaving with the world’s richest people. They flock to the town for parties on yachts and in the town’s bars and the daytime carousing at the clubs on nearby Pampelonne beach.
The most illustrious of all is Les Caves du Roy, a fixture on the world party scene since the 1960s. Every inch of the club, situated in the basement of the Hotel Byblos, just a few hundred meters back from the port, is covered in gold. There are golden columns, which end in waves of fluting, a parody of the Corinthian style meant to evoke champagne bursting from a bottle. The dance floor is golden, as are the tables on which are perched gold leaf–covered cocktail bowls.
Once there, Low spends 2 million euros on Champagne.
His friends also know how to party:
In Abu Dhabi, Al Qubaisi wore the traditional emirati cloak and head covering, and had a family home, a sprawling villa, where his wife and four children lived. But like many rich emiratis, he conducted a different life overseas. At his villa on the Côte d’Azur, with Bugattis and Ferraris parked outside, he partied with models, and he had a younger Moroccan wife in Paris. When abroad, he traded in traditional emirati dress for tight-fitting T-shirts, including one with a montage of images of Al Pacino’s Tony Montana from the 1983 film Scarface. Once, when an executive showed up to Al Qubaisi’s mansion in France to discuss business, he answered the door wearing a skimpy swimsuit, while women in bikinis lingered in the background.
There is still time to appreciate art:
A few weeks after the Wolf of Wall Street premiere, Low, posing as Eric Tan, sent DiCaprio a $3.3 million painting by Pablo Picasso as a late birthday present. The oil painting—Nature Morte au Crâne de Taureau—was accompanied with a handwritten note. “Dear Leonardo DiCaprio, Happy belated Birthday! This gift is for you,” it read. Then, Low told a Swiss gallery that was storing a $9.2 million Basquiat—a collage entitled Red Man One—to transfer ownership to DiCaprio. The order, made in a letter also signed by DiCaprio, indemnified the actor from “any liability whatsoever resulting directly or indirectly from these art-work.” The actor also got a photograph by Diane Arbus—cost $750,000—from Low. In private, DiCaprio was happy to accept these gifts. On the red carpet, he was in a more philosophical mood. Some critics of the film—including voting members of the Academy who heckled Scorsese at an official screening ahead of the Oscars—complained it glamorized Jordan Belfort’s fraud and was more likely to spawn financial malfeasance than serve as a cautionary tale. DiCaprio had carefully prepared his retort. “This is an indictment of all of Wall Street. But it’s an indictment about something that’s in our culture, this incessant need to consume and this incessant need to obtain more and more wealth with complete disregard for anyone except yourself,” he told one interviewer.
Political donations lead to invitations to hang out (and take selfies) with President Obama and family at the White House.
What about sex with supermodels?
Miranda Kerr, the Australian supermodel, walked in. She had come from a formal event and was wearing a ball gown, at odds with the atmosphere in the down-to-earth eatery. With her soft brown curls, iridescent blue eyes, and trademark dimples, the thirty-year-old was instantly recognizable, … After winning an Australian modeling competition, aged only thirteen, she had eventually moved to the United States, where she became a Victoria’s Secret model. In 2013, she earned $7 million, making her the second-best-paid female model in the world after Gisele Bündchen, and offers kept piling up—from H&M, Swarovski, Unilever—to promote products. But a supermodel’s earnings aren’t enough to launch a major business, and Kerr was interested in what Low had to offer. She had tired of modeling and was looking to transform herself into an entrepreneur. The next morning, she had a package of KORA products couriered over to Low’s apartment in the Time Warner building. Back in October, Kerr had divorced actor Orlando Bloom, with whom she had a three-year-old son,
Kerr explained her priorities:
“Simple things, like, you know, a fresh bouquet of flowers makes me really happy, watching the sun rise or the sun set,” she told one interviewer.
Low apparently did not realize that a floral bouquet would be sufficient:
A few months later, he would buy Kerr yet more jewelry, a $3.8 million diamond pendant, making a grand total of over $8 million to acquire the supermodel’s affections.
The $8 million is just for a rental, as it turns out…
Kerr had split with Low after the first stories about him began to emerge in early 2015. In May 2017 she married Evan Spiegel, the billionaire founder of Snapchat, cutting all ties with Low.
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