Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, who is wanted in relation to the 1MDB scandal, has reportedly turned to a Thai businessperson and a former rapper as intermediaries to pay his bills.
According to the Wall Street Journal, US authorities are investigating if the two intermediaries helped Low to, among others, pay his legal fees and lodging cost after the Penang-born businessperson's access to the global financial system was sharply curtailed due to the 1MDB scandal.
"The Justice Department (DOJ) is looking into whether a Thai businessman, Phengphian Laogumnerd, and former American former rap artist Pras Michel, a founding member of the Fugees hip-hop group, played roles in helping Low make payments, the people familiar with the matter said," WSJ reported.
"For at least a year, these people say, Low has relied on Phengphian to pay accommodation expenses in Hong Kong and Macau, legal and advisory bills and to keep Low’s US$250 million yacht Equanimity fully staffed and maintained until it was seized earlier this month.
"DOJ investigators are examining records and money flows related to a series of companies controlled by Phengphian in Hong Kong and in offshore havens such as the British Virgin Islands to determine whether Low’s money was involved, the people said," the report added.
However, Pengphian's spokesperson and Michel's lawyer reportedly denied the allegations.
"The source of his income is nothing to do with - and he has not received any money from Low.
"What he chooses to do with his own funds is his business alone. The DOJ has never contacted him about anything, neither have they ever asked him about the source of his funds," Pengphian's spokesperson was quoted saying.
WSJ added that Michel's lawyer said that the rapper had not done anything improper.
High-profile legal team
The report added that US authorities are studying whether Low laundered tens of millions of dollars through intermediaries to pay for his legal team, which comprised lawyers linked to US President Donald Trump.
They include former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a Republican US presidential candidate who later endorsed Trump and was tapped by the US president to lead his transitional team.
According to WSJ, also on the legal team was Trump's long-time lawyer Marc Kasowitz and Bobby Burchfield, who served as the Trump Organisation's outside ethics adviser and Ed Rogers, a Washington lobbyist with links to the Republican Party.
"There is no indication that any of the people who ultimately received payments were aware the funds could have originated from money Low allegedly siphoned off from 1MDB," said the report.
Christie's spokesperson confirmed that he was representing Low in the asset forfeiture cases in California but added that there was no communication with any other area of government on behalf of Low.
The DOJ believes around US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB and laundered through the global financial system, including in the US, and is seeking to seize around US$1.7 billion in assets allegedly acquired using the stolen money.