Inside Miranda Kerr's romance with an accused money launderer that resulted in her handing $8 million in jewelry over to the government
Supermodel and entrepreneur Miranda Kerr became an unsuspecting pawn in a 2014 money laundering scheme the day she accepted a heart-shaped diamond necklace worth $1.8 million from a man she was dating.
Malaysian investor, Jho Low, gifted the supermodel a total of about $8 million in jewelry in part of a larger conspiracy scandal, according to the US Department of Justice. In 2017, Kerr handed it over to the government.
More than $4.5 billion in laundered money was allegedly misappropriated from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund, known as 1MDB, set up by former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Razak has since been arrested in connection to the 1MDB scandal, charged with receiving more than $600 million into his personal bank account.
The following is an excerpt from " Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World ":
New York, January 2014
The New Wonjo Restaurant, on Thirty-Second Street in Manhattan's Koreatown, sat under the shadow of the Empire State Building. It was a 24/7 establishment, with plastic menus in the windows and authentic Asian fare — exactly the sort of place Jho Low liked to head after a late night of partying.
On this night, he was ensconced at a table with Joey McFarland and some other friends. It was cold outside — the "polar vortex" had sent temperatures plummeting at the turn of the New Year — and the group was eating Korean barbecue and soup after a night of karaoke, when 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, and her elegant attire stood out in such a simple restaurant. She had come to see a friend who was part of Low's group and took a seat at the table. Before long, the model was engrossed in a conversation with Low about her skin-care line, KORA Organics.
As it became clear that Low was a major investor, a billionaire, even — with interests in EMI and the Park Lane, and ties to a Hollywood studio — Kerr peppered him with questions about how to develop KORA, the running of which she had recently taken over from her mother.
As Low had accumulated power, and perhaps because of the built-up stress, some of his earlier charm and solicitousness had worn off, and he began to exhibit a rough edge of arrogance.
At a recent gambling session in Vegas, he had told a British model called Roxy Horner that she needed to lose weight, pointing to her waist. She was offended, but Low had learned that, because he was paying, he didn't really need to care. Kerr, though, was a different prospect, and when she mentioned her desire to expand KORA, Low was careful to praise her financial acumen.
Kerr had grown up on the edge of the Australian Outback, in a stultifying farming town called Gunnedah, but she had left that world far behind. 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, and her tumultuous personal life was constant fodder for the tabloids. Her parents back in Gunnedah gave an interview to Australian television, bemoaning how their daughter had forgotten them and needed to come home to learn how to milk cows and ride horses.
In the first months of 2014, Kerr would spend a chunk of time in New York, and almost every occasion she stepped out, a paparazzo would click her image. But despite the scrutiny, she managed to conceal a blossoming, and unexpected, romance with Low.
On February 2, the Malaysian invited her to watch Super Bowl XLVIII at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey — it was her first — and she attended along with Riza Aziz and McFarland. Model Kate Upton and Katie Holmes, who were in another box, stopped by. Gossip columns noted Kerr was there to watch the Seattle Seahawks pull off the biggest upset in modern football history, defeating the Denver Broncos, but Low's presence went unnoticed.
In the ensuing days, Low set about wooing her in the only way he knew how. He texted Lorraine Schwartz, telling her he wanted a necklace with a heart-shaped diamond, costing between $1 and $2 million, noting that "[s]ize matters." The diamond necklace, inscribed with "MK," cost $1.3 million, and Low gave it to the model as a present for Valentine's Day, financing it with money washed through both the Park Lane and Coastal Energy deals.
Even to close friends, Low would say he was only "helping Miranda out," and to keep the relationship secret, the pair would go out accompanied by Kerr's agent, Kristal Fox. A few weeks later, however — at a party for Kerr's thirty-first birthday — it would have been difficult to overlook Low's romantic intentions. Low hired out a venue on Chelsea Piers in New York for a nineties-themed party and flew in Salt-N-Pepa, Mark Morrison, and Vanilla Ice to perform. As usual, Jamie Foxx was on hand to emcee, and DiCaprio, Bloom, and Swizz Beatz were among the hundred or so invitees.
For the weekend of festivities, Low had the Topaz, Sheikh Mansour's yacht, moored in the Hudson River, and bedecked with customized Miami-style glamor lighting and hundreds of balloons. After the partying, a helicopter flew Low, Kerr, and her Australian friends to Atlantic City for more gambling at the baccarat tables. It was like the old times, back during Low's Whar ton days, although now he traveled by helicopter, not limousine, and he no longer cared whether Ivanka Trump would accept his invitation.
As he was wooing Kerr, Low also had to keep Rosmah Mansor sated, and in January 2014 he texted Lorraine Schwartz to see if she was in Los Angeles. The jeweler was in town and made haste to the Hotel Bel-Air, laden with luminescent diamond bangles and necklaces. Schwartz drove into the hotel, an exclusive Spanish mission–style retreat favored by Hollywood stars, set in twelve acres of gardens in the heart of Beverly Hills. Rosmah had checked into a plush suite with deep carpets and, after dinner with Schwartz and Low, she invited them up.
Schwartz unfurled her wares onto a table and Rosmah began to pick out items. She pointed at one eighteen-carat white gold diamond-studded bangle, and Schwartz set it aside. It cost $52,000, but Rosmah was only getting started. With the ease of a professional shopper, the first lady quickly picked out 27 bracelets and necklaces.
No one talks money in these elite circles, and it took a few months for the bill to arrive at Black rock, Low's company. The total was $1.3 million — quite a moderate spending spree by Rosmah's standards. Low took care of the invoice, and he also picked up the $300,000 tab that Rosmah ran up at the Bel-Air hotel during her week's stay.
Between April 2013 and September 2014, Low used the Blackrock account to purchase $200 million in jewelry from across the globe: Las Vegas, New York, Hong Kong, Dubai. Even more portable than art, diamonds are extremely hard to track.
The Financial Action Task Force, in a 2013 report, warned that money launderers and terrorists used the diamond industry as a conduit for illicit cash. In the United States, retailers like Lor raine Schwartz, or dealers in raw and cut stones, were under no legal obligation to conduct due diligence on clients. Even better, jewels could be transported without having to send money through financial institutions.
Not all the jewelry went to important figures like Rosmah. On one occasion, Low was in Las Vegas when he found out it was the birthday of a young Asian-Canadian model, a hanger-on in his group. On the way to dinner, Low spontaneously ducked into a Cartier store and came back out with a watch, passing it to her without any fanfare as a last-minute gift. The watch cost $80,000.
But it was Rosmah on whom Low showered the biggest diamonds. Imelda Marcos had her shoe collection, at least 1,220 pairs left behind when she and her husband were driven out of the Philippines in 1986 by the "People Power Revolution." Rosmah would be known for her Birkin bags and jewelry, hundreds of millions of dollars of rings, necklaces, and pendants, arranged in specially made drawers at her residence in Kuala Lumpur.
From the outside, Low appeared to be accumulating prestige, and he no longer had to situate himself between formidable people — the ones who knew the secrets of how the world really works. He had become one of them in his own right. Dating a supermodel, he was pursuing deals and drawing the Malaysian prime minister and his wife ever closer.
Those who hung around him, at the Super Bowl or over a dinner, still gossiped about his money. It was vaguely known he had links to Malaysia's prime minister, and it was taken as normal that such a relationship in a faraway Asian country could entail riches.
Anyone who was paying close attention, however, might have noticed an extra degree of restlessness amid Low's frenzied, globe-trotting schedule. As he whipped out his phone, excusing himself from a dinner or party, only he could see the obstacles that were piling up in his inbox, threatening to upend his scheme.
Excerpted from the book " Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World " by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope. Copyright © Tom Wright and Bradley Hope by Hachette Books. Reprinted with permission of Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.
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