Tom Wright does not believe curiosity can kill the cat. Or else why did he go to so much trouble to to uncover the biggest ever financial scandal in the 21st century?
Wright alongside his co-author Bradley Hope had spent the last three years revealing skeletons from the 1MDB closet that is connected to Malaysia’s most wanted fugitive, Jho Low.
“Frankly, we’ve got pretty sick of the taunts from the Prime Minister’s office under the previous administration. They constantly said we were liars and they acted as if we were some sorts of political force, as if we were taking sides in a political story here in Malaysia."
"Now, that simply is not true. The Wall Street Journal was reporting on the facts of the book Billion Dollar Whale.”
When people say that we are sensationalising it, I have very little time for that. This is a true crime fiction
“When people say that we are sensationalising it, I have very little time for that. This is a true crime fiction,” Wright sternly says.
Wright pokes back at his critics who have said The Billion Dollar Whale had been hastily published and poorly written to taunt the Malaysian government.
It was back in 2013, when a Wall Street Journal colleague of his had met former President of Goldman Sachs, Gary Cohen that Wright’s interest in 1MDB took root. It struck the journalist as strange as Cohen raved about Goldman’s million dollar earnings with Malaysia.
“We’ve busted our guts trying to talk to over a hundred folks to get documents. I sat in a room writing this with Bradley Hope my co-author and we just pored through thousands and thousands of pages of Whatsapp messages, bank transfer documentations.”
“It’s really what happened and if you’re reading it you can be sure that what’s in there really happened,” Wright adds.
The book had been written with an international audience in mind. They soon became obsessed their main character Jho Low, unveiling stories as they dug up more dirt on the subject.
“This is not hearsay. For example, there was a scene in the book where Jho Low and Leonardo Dicaprio had twenty-two Playmates in a room.”
“Well, we talked to the Playboy Playmates that were in the room. That’s how we build scenes. We didn’t make them up. It’s not a figment of my imagination. It was incredibly hard work to identify people.”
“We got a hold of email servers that showed all the correspondents between various peoples involved in Red Granite Pictures, for example.” Riza Aziz is the co-founder of Red Granite Pictures.
“From that you can find people who were at the events and that was really the reporting that we did for this book. Every single scene from the book in there is backed up my multiple recollections,” adds Wright.
Most importantly, Wright found it alarming how the Global Financial System did not pick up on the red flags. He believed that everyone involved kept a blind eye for the reasons of a lucrative trade in return.
“I think that Jho Low is an incredibly interesting individual. I feel like through writing this book, it’s almost like we’ve been living with him or trying to understand him and it’s incredibly difficult.”
“We’ve talked to a lot of people who’ve spent time with him and most of people’s recollection of him is that he’s a nice guy and made sure people around him got what they wanted.”
We tried over and over again to speak to Jho Low. One of the key principles of the Wall Street Journal is to give everybody a chance to reply to what is being written about them
“But now and again, you get a sense of another character a sort of darker character maybe one who hates to be alone and needs people around him,” he states.
“We try to not be subjective about him in the book, we report on Jho Low but readers will find that we don’t cast judgment. We try to be dry as possible in the way we portray him,” Wright says.
Wright sheds some light on the investigating process stating that his co-author, Bradley Hope was the money tracker, by digging up trails of the billions of dollars that ended up in Jho Low’s account.
“We tried over and over again to speak to Jho Low. One of the key principles of the Wall Street Journal is to give everybody a chance to reply to what is being written about them and we would never write something without doing so.”
“Jho Low did not interact with us in any meaningful way, his only real response is trying to stop the distribution of the book by using lawyers,” states Wright.
The British journalist explains he wanted the book to have a very descriptive narrative without citations. Claiming it was a very exhaustive process as he reached out to an endless list of sources in including celebrities like Britney Spears and Bradley Cooper who attended some of Low’s soirees.
What’s next for Tom Wright? He assures readers that the story has just begun. As the world watches in anticipation of the end game.
“To really do a book like this well, you really have to live and breathe the subject matter. This story has not ended that’s what so incredible here. We are currently negotiating for film rights.”
“What is going to happen to Jho Low? He’s in China as far as we know he seems to be protected to a degree."
“There’s a lot to play out in this story and it’s only just starting to gain attraction in the US, amazingly," says Wright. "It’s going to take the Goldman angle to really to make people realise how important this story is,” he adds.
Given that The Billion Dollar Whale will soon be published in Bahasa Melayu, Wright scratches his head thinking of a new catchy title that will make sense to the Malay reading audience.
"I speak a little bit of Indonesian," Wright's wife is Indonesian. "But I’m not good enough. Somebody said buaya means crocodile. Obviously, whale doesn’t work in Bahasa Melayu right? Because it has no connotations about casinos or nightclubs,” Wright laughs.