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Revealed: Kuwaiti royal, Thai tycoon underwrote 1MDB fugitive’s $3.4 million influence campaign

A Thai businessman and a member of Kuwait’s royal family have been revealed as the heretofore hidden funders behind a $3.4 million public relations campaign to redeem the reputation of a fugitive financier accused of embezzling $4.5 billion from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

A newly disclosed filing from international law firm Kobre & Kim regarding its advocacy work for Low Taek Jho (aka Jho Low) show the firm received almost $1.6 million on Dec. 9, 2019 from a “Sheikh Al Sabah” and another $1.1 million from Phengphian Laogumnerd in January and March of this year. The House of Al Sabah is the ruling family of Kuwait.

The revelations provide new insights into Low’s financial backers after the US investigation into his activities hindered his access to the international financial system starting in 2016.

A New York-based firm specializing in “disputes and investigations involving international fraud and misconduct,” Kobre & Kim has served as Low’s lead law firm for years as he fights the international charges against him. But the firm also conducts public relations and advocacy services for Low, which require greater public transparency under US law.

Lobbying records show that Kobre & Kim registered as a foreign agent for Low in October 2018 but never filed a contract identifying the terms of their agreement. The firm was to provide “counsel and guidance on public relations strategy with a focus on information related to various ongoing legal proceedings.” The original filing described Low simply as someone who “identifies himself as a global philanthropist, investor and entrepreneur.”

In previous lobbying filings, Kobre & Kim said it had received an undisclosed amount for its legal work on behalf of Low as well an estimated $708,000 in fees related to work registrable under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Coupled with the newly disclosed $2.7 million, that brings the total to $3.4 million.

In 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that the US Justice Department was investigating Laogumnerd’s support for Low to see if it may have been funded by money Low allegedly siphoned off from 1MDB. Low has relied on Phengphian “to pay accommodation expenses in Hong Kong and Macau, legal and advisory bills and to keep Mr. Low’s $250 million yacht, Equanimity, fully staffed and maintained” until Indonesian authorities seized it in 2018.

And earlier this month, the Journal reported that Low had managed to slip into Kuwait in September 2019 despite an Interpol Red Notice. The newspaper reported that Low has had long-lasting ties to Sheikh Sabah al-Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad Al Sabah, the son of former Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad Al Sabah. A spokesman for Al Sabah told the Journal he “categorically denies any wrongdoing.”

Kobre & Kim did not respond to a request for comment. A message to a web site the firm was hired to set up for Low,, was left unanswered.

Update: This post was updated on June 19 at 10:30 to clarify that Low’s reported relationship was with the son of Kuwait’s former prime minister, not the ex-official himself.