Billion Dollar Whale, the Man who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope
Billion Dollar Whale has all the components of a truly outrageous blockbuster movie. Cash, heaps and heaps of cash. Trickery. Bribery. Super Models. Superstars. Leonardo DiCaprio. And did I mention … cash (lots of it)!
In this true-crime expose, Wright and Hope painstakingly put together the details of how Jho Low pulled off one of the biggest – if not THE BIGGEST – financial heists in the world. Through a seamless narrative, they document how Low was able to siphon off upwards of $10billion dollars from a Malaysian Development Fund, to pay for his own extremely elaborate lifestyle.
Sheelah Kolhatkar described it by saying “[e]ven the most skilled fiction writer would have trouble conjuring the corrupt and colourful protagonist”.
A section of the blurb reads …
“Billion Dollar Whale reveals how this silver-tongued con man, a ‘modern Gatsby’, emerged from obscurity to pull off one of the most audacious financial heists the world has ever seen, and how the financial industry let him. It is a classic harrowing parable of hubris and greed in the financial world”
To match the blockbuster type feel to the story – there is an entire roster of characters that appear throughout: from Arab Princes’ and multiple high-level bankers, through to Miranda Kerr and Jamie Foxx. Luckily for the reader, Wright and Hope were nice enough to provide a handy list of key players at the beginning of the book to refer back to incase you to get caught up in the trickery.
Our story starts with Low in college at Wharton. Even at this young age he was desperate to been seen as part of the elite – even inviting Ivanka Trump to his party (she turned him down!). We then follow his continuous networking, deal-making, and self-promoting with politicians and royals throughout Asia and the Middle East. Finally, we’re invited along each step of his journey with 1MDB; behind the scenes to see how to truly swindled billions of dollars from the Malaysian Development Fund.
At each twist of this story there are key global financial players ready in the wings to help pull off the scandal. Despite some eye-brows raised by compliance departments, the book reads like a ‘who’s-who’ of the financial world with Goldman, Deutsche, Ernst and Young, KPMG, and Deloitte all featuring. As well as some more obscure private Swiss banks. It truly befuddles the reader the sheer number of people who were willing to turn a blind-eye to fraud for their chance of a fat paycheque or swift promotion.
Throughout the narrative it is easy to lose sight of just how outrageous the sums of money being stolen are. As the narrative develops the total grows from $2.5billion to $5billion, all the way to $10+ billion. This is coupled with incredibly lavish spending from $8 on jewellery*, $70+ million on property in Manhattan, Hollywood, and LA and $250 million on a super yacht.
To try and provide some context …if someone told you to spend $1,000 every day it would take you roughly 3 years to spend $1 million. It would take you 2,740 years to spend $1 billion.
I’ll just let you sit and ponder that for a minute.
As with Bad Blood, the feel of Billion Dollar Whale is of writers who have done their research. Journalists by trade, their style of writing is concise and flowing. The level of detail is just right; helping to unlock the secrets of the financial world, whilst not letting the reader get bogged down in the specific of pooled-mutual funds.
First published in 2018, the copy that I read had been updated for 2019. Yet, years after Low’s plans began to unravel, the reader is still left with a cliff hanger. Will he be punished for his actions? Is he still audaciously living an extravagant life? Will we ever find out?
Prior to reading Bad Blood and Billion Dollar Whale I had not read many true-crime books. However, having thoroughly enjoyed both of them it is a sub-genre I am hoping to read more of during 2020. Do you enjoy reading true-crime? What is your top true-crime recommendation?
Billion Dollar Whale in Facts:
•For Miranda Kerr alone ….