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Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World

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An epic true-tale of hubris and greed from two Pulitzer-finalist Wall Street Journal reporters, Billion Dollar Whale reveals how a young social climber pulled off one of the biggest financial heists in history--right under the nose of the global financial industry--exposing the shocking secret nexus of elite wealth, banking, Hollywood, and politics. The dust had yet to set An epic true-tale of hubris and greed from two Pulitzer-finalist Wall Street Journal reporters, Billion Dollar Whale reveals how a young social climber pulled off one of the biggest financial heists in history--right under the nose of the global financial industry--exposing the shocking secret nexus of elite wealth, banking, Hollywood, and politics. The dust had yet to settle on the global financial crisis in 2009 when an unlikely Wharton grad was setting in motion a fraud of unprecedented gall and magnitude--one that would come to symbolize the next great threat to the global financial system. Billion Dollar Whale will become a classic, harrowing parable about the financial world in the twenty-first century.


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An epic true-tale of hubris and greed from two Pulitzer-finalist Wall Street Journal reporters, Billion Dollar Whale reveals how a young social climber pulled off one of the biggest financial heists in history--right under the nose of the global financial industry--exposing the shocking secret nexus of elite wealth, banking, Hollywood, and politics. The dust had yet to set An epic true-tale of hubris and greed from two Pulitzer-finalist Wall Street Journal reporters, Billion Dollar Whale reveals how a young social climber pulled off one of the biggest financial heists in history--right under the nose of the global financial industry--exposing the shocking secret nexus of elite wealth, banking, Hollywood, and politics. The dust had yet to settle on the global financial crisis in 2009 when an unlikely Wharton grad was setting in motion a fraud of unprecedented gall and magnitude--one that would come to symbolize the next great threat to the global financial system. Billion Dollar Whale will become a classic, harrowing parable about the financial world in the twenty-first century.

30 review for Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World

  1. 4 out of 5

    Syahira Sharif

    Being a Malaysian and trying to come up with a perfectly objective review is impossible when it hit so close to home. Nothing against to the wonderful people who contributed to this publication. But there has never have been a book that filled me with so much rage and disgust. Therefore, I shall not self-censor myself to the barrage of insults that I shall unleash. Because at this moment, I am too sober and too angry to be nice. Billion Dollar Whale is a very readable and well-written condensatio Being a Malaysian and trying to come up with a perfectly objective review is impossible when it hit so close to home. Nothing against to the wonderful people who contributed to this publication. But there has never have been a book that filled me with so much rage and disgust. Therefore, I shall not self-censor myself to the barrage of insults that I shall unleash. Because at this moment, I am too sober and too angry to be nice. Billion Dollar Whale is a very readable and well-written condensation of the decade long kleptocratic 1Malaysia Development Berhad scam that centered around one pathetic greedy moron called Jho Low. The spoiled cowardly manchild who came from a moderately rich family of Penang who dreamed of fame and luxury. By sheer luck and his connections to those of wealth and fortune, he became a self-made crazy rich Asian billionaire. Of course, none of it would have happened if Mr Low hadn't surround himself with his enablers from middle eastern princes to bankers to Hollywood A-listers to politicians who got suck into this web of lies and ill-begotten wealth that was funded by and debt paid by us millions of Malaysian taxpayers. Sadly, there will be people who look up to Jho Low. Who see him as a genius mastermind who duped everyone for a grand short-lived adventure. There might be movie being made from this because why not? People showering in Cristal champagne. Famous paintings and acquisitions. Shopping sprees. Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Alicia Keys, Miranda Kerr, Kimora Lee Simmons, Nicole Scherzinger, Busta Rhymes and of course, Leonardo DiCaprio. Dumb dumb people being seduced by easy money but who am I to blame them. Me, someone who only shared the same nationality of the person who fooled them all. It was painfully hard trying not to become numb after seeing countless of millions and billions dollars being thrown about. The massive scale and downright ridiculous and thoughtless inhumanity of it all. How massive amount of money being dropped and nobody even thought to wonder where they came from. Ringgit being depreciated so suddenly. Years of us being shackled by massive debt incurred. And for what? For paid affection of actors and supermodels? For some pink diamonds and tasteless Birkins? For the respect earned through dirty money borrowed from people duped left and right? "Guilt-by-lifestyle"? What bloody hypocrites them all! And sheer irresponsibility of it all that unwittingly fell on us, millions of voting citizen to turn the tide just to put a crack on it. It's not simply about money. There are people who have been unjustifiably persecuted, missing and dead because of this scandal. The unimaginable horror of what would happen if we let this charade continue further. I hope the future will unravel more of the rot. I hope the hammer of justice will pull the biggest wallop. What goes around comes around.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stacey Sim

    If you have never followed the 1MDB scandal closely, you should read this to catch up. If you are bored and looking for a good thriller, you should read this book. If you are Malaysian you should read this book. If you work in the finance industry, you should read this book. If you're looking for Hollywood mixed financial crime-scandal, you should read this book. If you're looking to feel infuriated, you should read this book. In general, you should read this book. That's it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Anas

    Its hard to put down this book, as if the stories were fantasies. The heist commited by Jho Low is definitely bigger than Bernie Maddoff ponzi scheme, well at least Bernie’s inverstors got their ‘profits’ back. Jho Low represents a desperate figure who wants companionship, recognition and love (even if it is fake) through money. His acts, cowardly hiding behind without holding an official position in 1MDB undoubtedly shady, but not a problem for a stupid prime minister like Najib at that time. Lo Its hard to put down this book, as if the stories were fantasies. The heist commited by Jho Low is definitely bigger than Bernie Maddoff ponzi scheme, well at least Bernie’s inverstors got their ‘profits’ back. Jho Low represents a desperate figure who wants companionship, recognition and love (even if it is fake) through money. His acts, cowardly hiding behind without holding an official position in 1MDB undoubtedly shady, but not a problem for a stupid prime minister like Najib at that time. Low’s scheme perfectly summarized in the page 371- “he sensed that the world’s largest banks, it’s auditors, and its lawyers would not throw up obstacles to his scheme if they smelled profits” Thank you to Tom Wright and Bradley Hope for writing this book. I would probably need to smuggle it if Najib wasn’t defeated back in May 2018. I hope that the publisher would consider releasing a cheaper version, and maybe translate into the Malay language so that more Malaysians can read this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Paul Ark

    "Bad Blood" meets "Crazy Rich Asians"

  5. 5 out of 5

    Venky

    Since the publication of All The President’s Men, Barbarians At The Gate and Too Big To Fail, there have been few books of this genre that have gripped the imagination of the reader – until the arrival of Billion Dollar Whale. A ‘whale’ is a high rolling gambler who consistently wagers large amounts of money. High rollers often receive lavish “comps” from casinos to lure them onto the gambling floors, such as free private jet transfers, limousine use and use of the casinos’ best suites. Acclaimed Since the publication of All The President’s Men, Barbarians At The Gate and Too Big To Fail, there have been few books of this genre that have gripped the imagination of the reader – until the arrival of Billion Dollar Whale. A ‘whale’ is a high rolling gambler who consistently wagers large amounts of money. High rollers often receive lavish “comps” from casinos to lure them onto the gambling floors, such as free private jet transfers, limousine use and use of the casinos’ best suites. Acclaimed journalists Tom Wright and Bradley Hope combine to deliver a jaw dropping tour de force that elucidates how the impudence of a rogue individual, the intransigence at the highest levels of a rotten kleptocracy and the greedy ingenuity of a Wall Street behemoth, all combined to pull off, what arguably has to be the most brazen heist in financial history. Swindler, Fixer, Wheeler-Dealer, Compulsive liar, and globe trotter, Low Taek Jho (Jho Low) first appeared as a simmering mist when rumours regarding a possible swindling of money from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, 1 Malaysia Berhad (“1MDB” for short) began doing the rounds. As tumultuous events subsequently demonstrated in horrific detail, this was no swindling of a routine run-of-the-mill nature associated with the functioning of a Government fund. As Mr. White and Mr. Hope detail with extraordinary clarity, 1MDB was representative of a total collapse of governance at multiple levels. It was a gargantuan vehicle of personal convenience whose wheels were greased by the lubricants of graft. 1MBD was a mother lode of all scams that ultimately resulted in the toppling (for the first time ever) of the kleptocratic United Malys National Organisation (“UMNO”) and its strong man, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. At the eye of the storm was Low Taek Jho. Ambitious and eager to make his mark in the world of the nouveax rich, Jho Low, an alumnus of Harrow and Wharton, banking on his Ivy League Networks persuaded the Prime Minister of Malaysia to set up a sovereign wealth fund to be named 1MDB. The fund was to partner with PetroSaudi, a company ostensibly owned by a member of Saudi Royalty, Prince Turki. What followed as Mr. White and Hope illustrate in all its grisly detail is a complex, convoluted and conniving structure that resulted in multiple companies being incorporated in various tax havens across the globe through which moneys originally intended to fill the coffers of the fund were systematically and ruthlessly siphoned off by Jho Low and his associates. The con-man proceeded to spray his loot on excesses that are hard to imagine. For instance, to celebrate his thirty-first birthday, Jho Low not only stayed at the $25,000 per night Chairman Suites of the fifth Floor of the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas, he also arranged a grand celebration that had for attendance, Swizz Beatz, Jamie Foxx, Leonardo Di Caprio, Benicio Del Toro, Busta Rhymes, Ludacris, Chris Brown and- hold your breath- Britney Spears popping out of a faux cake to wish Low a happy birthday! This elevation of Jho Low – who otherwise would be deemed to be a parvenu within the circles of an elite – from a virtual nobody into a uber rich multi-billionaire splurging $250 million on a luxury yacht Equanimity or $8 million on acquiring jewelry to impress his could be girlfriend Miranda Kerr, was facilitated by a phalanx of unscrupulous characters who in a Faustian bargain sacrificed sense at the altar of greed. At the very apex of the pyramid was the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak. Although unaware of the insidious depth of Jho Low’s macabre motives, the politician was none too averse to utilize public funds to both further his electoral prospects and to satiate the inexorable material needs of his high spending, preening and strutting wife, Rosmah Mansor. Having set up a ‘secret’ account for the Prime Minister with Ambank, a bank that had ANZ Grindlays as its largest shareholder, in March 2013, “Jho Low sent a BlackBerry message to Joanna Yu, an employee at Ambank in Kuala Lumpur, warning her that “681 American Pies” would soon be arriving from overseas into an account known as “AMPRIVATE BANKING – MR”. Very soon a whopping sum of $681 million made its way into the designated account to be used for the purposes of bolstering the chances of the Prime Minister in the ensuing elections of 2013. The stash accumulated by Rosmah Mansor was to say the least – jaw dropping! “Police raided Kuala Lumpur apartment units owned by Najib’s family and carted out $274 million worth of items, including 12,000 pieces of jewelry, 567 handbags and 423 watches, as well as $28 million in cash.” To drum up the money for 1MBD, and in the process, to obtain their own significant cut, was the ruthless Wall Street Banking giant Goldman Sachs. The duo of ‘Dr.’ Timothy Leissner, the flamboyant playboy and Chairman, South East Asia, and Andrea Vella, Head of Goldman structured finance business in Asia, who between them, ensured that, “in total over just twelve months, the bank had earned nearly $600 million from selling three bonds for the 1MDB Fund – two hundred times the typical fee.” A Board of puppets and toothless tigers at 1MDB headed by Shahrol Halmi, merely rubber stamping the orders of Jho Low and the Prime Minister contributed to a great extent to the continuing pillage. When a contentious Mohammed Bakke Salleh, the Chairman of the Fund started raising suspicions, he was promptly removed and replaced by another pliant loyalist. Three different auditing firms – part of the Big 4s – that completely failed in their duties to detect brazen round tripping and non-existent redemption of funds from obscure Cayman Island accounts. The bankers themselves who compromised on all scruples at the prospect of personal enrichment. Yak, a banker with the BSI Group in Singapore, “began to take home around $5 million a year in salary and bonuses, more than five times his previous earnings, binding him to Low, the money and adulation too alluring to turn down.” Finally, the man’s insatiable desire to be drenched in fortune and drown in fame led to a rampant fostering of greed which no amount of monetary resources could curb. Spending a staggering $85 million “on alcohol, gambling in Vegas, private jets, renting superyachts, and to pay Playboy Playmates and Hollywood celebrities to hang out with them”; renting “a suite of rooms that cost $100,000 per month”; “…acquired a condominium in New York’s Park Laurel Building…for $36 million; spending “2 million euros on champagne” in one single night at Saint-Tropez; funding Red Granite a production company co-owned by Riza Aziz, the step-son of Najib Razak and Joey McFarlane that produced the Martin Scorsese directed “Wolf of Wall Street.” The heady intoxication fueled by laundered money now began seeping into the exotic world of art. “In all between May and September 2013, Low, via Tanore, bought $137 million in art. But Low had picked up more…. such as the Van Gogh, as well as works by Lichtenstein, Picasso and Warhol, and by the end of the year he possessed art worth an estimated $330 million.” These precious acquisitions were stashed in the secretive entrepots of the Geneva Freeport – a sanctuary for preserving the material possessions of the ‘uberelite’, way beyond the prying eyes of the taxman. Mr. White and Mr. Hope have left no stone unturned in their quest to both unearth and unleash the truth. They have done a fabulous job at that! The narrative is laid out in a matter of fact, bare bones manner with neither an intention to sensationalize things nor to take biased sides. The research is maddeningly methodical and unbelievably extensive. One can only imagine the two intrepid journalists sifting through what must have been an Everest of physical and digital depositories! This sure is an 8848 meter research of exemplary calibre! When the dust finally settled on the pilfering, plunder and pillage, 1MDB was in debt to the tune of a whopping $10 billion with Low and his associates vanishing into thin air. At the time of this review, Low is a wanted fugitive with an Interpol notice hanging over his head like a Damocles sword. Swiftly running out of options, the net of justice and the harpoons of infernal hell seem to be closing down upon this invidious whale!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Shemah

    Absolutely riveting. It plays out like a train wreck you can't tear your eyes away from.. happening in slow motion with the ppl of Malaysia being the casualties. How everything happened is just... unfathomable.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jie Hui

    Skillful journalism and writing that detailed the most outrageous theft of people's money from Malaysia. It is ridiculous that nobody even care to do further due diligence as long as they get a cut from the cake. I couldn't contain my anger towards the events depicted in the book, yet was amazed at the extend of human greed that would make our future generations suffer, while the beneficiaries suffer no or minimal punishment.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tina

    I was not super familiar with the 1MDB scandal. I had heard a little bit in the news about the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, but hadn't paid too close attention. The details of this book are unbelievable and serve as further maddening proof of the power of greed in this world. Jho Low dupes everyone, from bankers to politicians to A-list celebrities, all because they want a taste of his riches. They never ask too much about where or how he got all his money, that would spoil the fun. In I was not super familiar with the 1MDB scandal. I had heard a little bit in the news about the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, but hadn't paid too close attention. The details of this book are unbelievable and serve as further maddening proof of the power of greed in this world. Jho Low dupes everyone, from bankers to politicians to A-list celebrities, all because they want a taste of his riches. They never ask too much about where or how he got all his money, that would spoil the fun. In some ways it was a little depressing to read this book, especially in these times, because it just made me more and more frustrated with the state of the world. I think it's important to know more about these types of frauds, though, because they open your eyes to the way people can be bought and the extent to which they can lie. I was appalled by how easily people watched (and took joy in) Low spending hundreds of millions on frivolous, stupid things - basically throwing the Malaysian people's money away on booze and gambling. It just shows that we should always question what the people in charge are selling as the truth and that there should be more transparency in banking, governments, and the movement of money across the globe. The book is structured very well and reads like a financial thriller. I listened to it on audio and never got bored or confused (ok, maybe a little confused by some of the financial maneuvers). It reminded me a lot in tone and genre of another recent read, Bad Blood. My only wish would be that there was a little more information about Malaysia in general and the every day people affected by this fraud, but that would've made for another whole book probably. I definitely recommend to fans of nonfiction, this is not just a boring business/financial read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Athan Tolis

    The Wall Street Journal seems to be doing something right, Rupert Murdoch ownership notwithstanding, because for the second time in 2018 I find myself reading a truly amazing book that’s based on investigative work done by its correspondents. Not only that, but it can be said with some certainty that in both instances (Elizabeth Holmes’ pseudo-science in “Bad Blood” and Jho Low’s / Najib Razhak’s stolen billions in “Billion Dollar Whale”) the Journal has played a pivotal role in shining light on The Wall Street Journal seems to be doing something right, Rupert Murdoch ownership notwithstanding, because for the second time in 2018 I find myself reading a truly amazing book that’s based on investigative work done by its correspondents. Not only that, but it can be said with some certainty that in both instances (Elizabeth Holmes’ pseudo-science in “Bad Blood” and Jho Low’s / Najib Razhak’s stolen billions in “Billion Dollar Whale”) the Journal has played a pivotal role in shining light on these crimes and bringing the criminals to justice. Indeed, I finished this book pretty much on the same day as Goldman was forced to let go of Andrea Vella, the head of its Asian business, for the crimes described here. If, like me, you are a “glass half-empty” kind of guy, of course, you will also remark that it’s a terrible state of affairs when journalists are ahead of our justice system (to say nothing of the supposed pillars of our capitalist system), but that cannot possibly detract from what was a tremendous, fast paced, comprehensive and rather convincing book. The crime of money laundering and the technique of “layering” are rather tedious, of course. And the number of characters in the book makes the “cast of characters” in the introduction a total must. But the main character in the book, Jho Low, was such a party animal that (provided you have a tolerance for what felt like at least one dodgy financial transaction per page) this was actually a fun book to read. And it tickled the voyeur in me, who got to see “how the other half live.” Frankly, I’ve now had my fill of Swizz Beats, Alicia Keys, Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and Miranda Kerr, to say nothing of the sundry Sheikhs, their boats and their jets; any tips on how to get the cigar smoke off my clothes are welcome!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Tollemache

    In Wall Street 2 Gordon Gekko tells Shia Laboeuf (I forgot character name): "A fisherman always sees a fisherman from afar" which basically means it takes one, to know one. Thus we learn midway through "Billion Dollar Whale" that one of the 1st to spot that Jho Low was a fraud and was playing with stolen money was Jordan Belfort aka The Wolf of Wall Street. Ironically, Jho Low was the one who bankrolled the Leo DiCaprio movie about Belfort, "The Wolf of Wall Street". "Billion Dollar Whale" (BDW) In Wall Street 2 Gordon Gekko tells Shia Laboeuf (I forgot character name): "A fisherman always sees a fisherman from afar" which basically means it takes one, to know one. Thus we learn midway through "Billion Dollar Whale" that one of the 1st to spot that Jho Low was a fraud and was playing with stolen money was Jordan Belfort aka The Wolf of Wall Street. Ironically, Jho Low was the one who bankrolled the Leo DiCaprio movie about Belfort, "The Wolf of Wall Street". "Billion Dollar Whale" (BDW) is a great book on perhaps the greatest theft ever which is the embezzlement of $3-5B from the 1MDB Malaysian wealth fund by JHo Low. BDW documents how Low started out in life as the son of a rich Malaysian textile family who when he went to prep school in the UK and later Wharton in the US, decided he had to live like the obscenely wealthy sons of Mid East oil kingdoms and European nobility. He used family connections, balls and wit to ingratiate himself with the Malaysian Prime Minister and a coterie of wanna be players across the globe to set up a sovereign wealth fund for Malaysia (even though country already had one) and used a constellation of shell companies and shady banks to make off with an estimated $3-5B. This amazing pile of stolen $$ was used to fuel a 5 year epic orgy of global partying with models, Hollywood titans and Goldman Sachs and he even invested some it along the way. Leo DiCaprio figures prominently as a kinda celebrity on retainer who used Low to get the movie "Wolf of Wall St" made when Hollywood passed on it. I so hope DiCaprio gets to play himself in the movie. Even in our fallen world such a colossal theft can not go uncovered forever and everyone from the Malaysian PM, to Goldman bankers to Miranda Kerr got arrested or forced to give back Low's gifts Everyone got caught save Low who is still out there somehwere and even has his lawyers threatening to sue the authors for libel

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rekha

    Heart breaking, riveting read. How millions were robbed and so casually spent, with no consequence. It was fascinating to see how the “haves” live their lives off the backs of the “have nots.”

  12. 5 out of 5

    Albert

    This isn't a book I would've picked up had my wife not mentioned it. As much as I found Najib's ousting a few months ago an interesting socio-political development in Malaysia, it wasn't something I was going to delve into. But then she started reading it so I thought I'd read it too. "Truth is always stranger than fiction" definitely applies to this book. Had Kevin Kwan wrote such over-the-top skimming/stealing scheme in "Crazy Rich Asians" it would've come across as lazy and cheap plotting. Bu This isn't a book I would've picked up had my wife not mentioned it. As much as I found Najib's ousting a few months ago an interesting socio-political development in Malaysia, it wasn't something I was going to delve into. But then she started reading it so I thought I'd read it too. "Truth is always stranger than fiction" definitely applies to this book. Had Kevin Kwan wrote such over-the-top skimming/stealing scheme in "Crazy Rich Asians" it would've come across as lazy and cheap plotting. But this book managed Kwan's fictional "Crazy Rich Asians" to be rather tame. And I mean TAME. You thought Kwan's "Crazy Rich Asians" or "China Rich Girlfriend" were "crazy" or "crazy rich"?? Jho Low says, "Hold my beer". This guy. I swear, THIS GUY. HOLY MOTHER OF GOD. I'm not sure what he was thinking when he initially decided to embezzle $700 million from a $1 billion fund. I mean, 700? If you're going to go that high, why not go for 800? Or 850? If not, then why not 500? Or even 100? 250? Surely $100 million would've been far easier to plug back. And then he freakin' spent it on crap (c'mon, "Wolf of Wall Street" wasn't that great…). And I mean crap! And then it just ballooned. $700 mil here. $1 billion here. A few hundred million again here, and there, and here again. The ridiculous part is how so many of the supposed checks and balances the financial institutions have all seem to go away in the face of ridiculous profit. This is still an industry where personal word/honour matters and a simple email can brush away legal requirements. Kudos to everyone who said something, tried to do something, or just outright quit. Great reporting on how Malaysia lost a few billion dollars and what brought about the political change in Malaysia in 2018.

  13. 4 out of 5

    CK Koay

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Wow. My brain is fried from reading this. I've been following the 1MDB scandal closely ever since it was raised by Sarawak Report. And I have talked to innocent acquaintances who had worked there as well. But nothing could have prepared me for the scale and scope of the 1MDB scandal that has been vividly retold in this grippingly well researched book. Told in a linear timeline, Hope and Wright brought clarity on how Jho Low built a progressively complicated house of cards using corrupt officials Wow. My brain is fried from reading this. I've been following the 1MDB scandal closely ever since it was raised by Sarawak Report. And I have talked to innocent acquaintances who had worked there as well. But nothing could have prepared me for the scale and scope of the 1MDB scandal that has been vividly retold in this grippingly well researched book. Told in a linear timeline, Hope and Wright brought clarity on how Jho Low built a progressively complicated house of cards using corrupt officials, greedy corporations, opaque jurisdictions and naive celebrities to pull off the world's biggest heist. There are genuinely surprising revelations here that is new even for me. And I have been following this subject keenly and closely for a long time. I never knew that people associated with Mahathir introduced Xavier Justo to Clare Rewcastle Brown. I also didn't know that the WSJ leaks about Najib's account originated directly from members of the original 1MDB taskforce. The chapters in the book end just before the historical election that saw Najib's defeat. The events that transpired after that (the seizure of Najib's assets and The Equaminty, the arrest and subsequent charging of Najib) was briefly mentioned in the epilogue. I do hope that the authors continue to cover this in an update for the paperback version of this book. Almost every WhatsApp chat discussion group that I am a part of have been ciculating an advance copy of this book as a pdf. In spite of this, this book has been sold out in all bookshops in Malaysia. If you had enjoyed this book, do support the authors by buying a copy when stocks are replenished.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mbogo J

    The corrupting effect of money should never be underestimated, it has been wrecking havoc since we invented the concept of the money, and this book chronicles one story from this rich vein. The title having sold the contents well, I particularly liked Tom Wright's style of writing. It is written in a kind of thriller way and before you know it, you've burned through 200 pages in a few hours. I had initially intended to read this book a bit later but when I read the first chapter just to get a fe The corrupting effect of money should never be underestimated, it has been wrecking havoc since we invented the concept of the money, and this book chronicles one story from this rich vein. The title having sold the contents well, I particularly liked Tom Wright's style of writing. It is written in a kind of thriller way and before you know it, you've burned through 200 pages in a few hours. I had initially intended to read this book a bit later but when I read the first chapter just to get a feel of the book, I got hooked and 400 pages later, I can't complain, it was very interesting. I know any Malaysian reading this will be incensed at the theft of public funds but for the curious reader who has less skin in the game, this was a gripping tale. The audacity of Low to just blow through billions of dollars of public funds buying yachts and treating every hangers-on in his entourage is just out of this world. What was he thinking? Did money corrupt him or was he a sociopath? Or may be it was one grand heist planned over decades and which paid big? I don't have good answers to these questions but you should read this book to understand how the 1% of the 1% live. Suddenly Picketty's ideas don't seem bad now, do they? Inequality... (that's a story for another day)

  15. 4 out of 5

    John Spiller

    "Billion Dollar Whale" is an engrossing and infuriating saga of theft and waste on an incomprehensible scale. Just reflecting on the magnitude of frittering away of billions --BILLIONS -- of dollars sets my blood pressure skyrocketing. If you want further specifics regarding the details of the book, you will find them in some of the detailed reviews below. In short, this book rivals "Bad Blood" as the book on corporate malfeasance for 2018. Despite Enron and despite the 2007 financial crisis, you "Billion Dollar Whale" is an engrossing and infuriating saga of theft and waste on an incomprehensible scale. Just reflecting on the magnitude of frittering away of billions --BILLIONS -- of dollars sets my blood pressure skyrocketing. If you want further specifics regarding the details of the book, you will find them in some of the detailed reviews below. In short, this book rivals "Bad Blood" as the book on corporate malfeasance for 2018. Despite Enron and despite the 2007 financial crisis, you still have sophisticated global companies (Goldman Sachs, KPMG, Deloitte, etc.) willing to turn a blind eye to outright theft because of the outsized fees they can earn. Next time, someone tells you that regulations on financial practices need to be relaxed so that we can turbocharge the economy, lend them this book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Losh

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. As an aspiring investigative journalist, I am so impressed with the amount of hard work, time, effort and determination put into writing this book. I have the highest levels of respect for both Wright and Hope. I have yet to write anything remotely this explosive, so I can only imagine the number of long hours, and courage it must have taken to pen this. As an English major, there are parts where I feel could have been written better. Some sections became a bit draggy, but I had to remind myself As an aspiring investigative journalist, I am so impressed with the amount of hard work, time, effort and determination put into writing this book. I have the highest levels of respect for both Wright and Hope. I have yet to write anything remotely this explosive, so I can only imagine the number of long hours, and courage it must have taken to pen this. As an English major, there are parts where I feel could have been written better. Some sections became a bit draggy, but I had to remind myself that this is non-fiction. Facts are facts, and sometimes facts can be a bit draggy and boring. As a Malaysian, I am appalled, and even that is an understatement. Having been born to parents who work extremely hard to provide for our family, it was painful to look at all the money that could have been channeled into improving Malaysian education system, increasing funding for mental health, care, and upgrading public facilities, like the government hospitals, to name a few. As a citizen of the world, I am disgusted at what one man’s greed can cost another. There are families in Malaysia, and across the globe who are unable to afford basic necessities. There are single moms raising 5-6 children, living in houses with broken roofs. There are students who are unable to afford education. Recently, a 15-year-old child was married off by her parents due to poverty. All this, while this group of thieves threw elaborate parties, bought luxury assets, shopped at high end boutiques. Disgusted is the only word I can think of, that explains how I felt, as I flipped through the pages. I am a strong believer in justice, in facing the consequences of your actions. I have not lost all hope, and I believe these shameless robbers will be brought to their knees. If not here on Earth, when they return to their maker (preferably, on Earth, if not both).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jee Hooked On Bookz

    He took the mickey out of everyone. He lied, scanned, bought favors to get favors, and isn't stopping. This wanted fugitive is still at it. This book is well-written and thoroughly researched. A must-read! Full review here: https://bit.ly/2yPIsye

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lucas Brandl

    Most people will have heard of the celebrities in this book like Paris Hilton and Leonardo DiCaprio. But the main "character" Jho Low will be a virtual unknown, and that seems to be how he wanted it. Despite his anonymity, he basically lived the rich, party lifestyle glorified in hip hop songs- times a thousand. He had parties in Vegas where he would tip the staff a million dollars in one night. He had a birthday party where Britney Spears came out of a cake. He owned his own jet and a 250 milli Most people will have heard of the celebrities in this book like Paris Hilton and Leonardo DiCaprio. But the main "character" Jho Low will be a virtual unknown, and that seems to be how he wanted it. Despite his anonymity, he basically lived the rich, party lifestyle glorified in hip hop songs- times a thousand. He had parties in Vegas where he would tip the staff a million dollars in one night. He had a birthday party where Britney Spears came out of a cake. He owned his own jet and a 250 million dollar yacht. And yet basically all the money he had was gained illegitimately. This book talks about how he manipulated the Malaysian prime minister, Goldman Sachs, and basically all international finance auditors, into running a virtually non existent sovereign wealth fund where billions of dollars went to him and he got to spend it on partying. He even started his own Hollywood studio and was the funding behind the movie Wolf of Wall Street. Jordan Belfort, the scam artist who Wolf of Wall Street is based on, met Jho Low and cut ties with him because of how shady he was. How crazy is that? Leonardo DiCaprio was super close to Jho Low for awhile, mostly because he saw a chance to get movies funded without having to give up creative control. As far as the book goes, it gets a little too detailed on the specific financial instruments he utilized to pull this fraud off for my taste. Jho Low is basically a real life Great Gatsby, and I would have liked to see a little more attempt at an analysis of the human being who does this. I also think the inequality in Malaysia and around the world was given acknowledgement in the book, but deserved more attention because it's a big part of the story and why Low's actions have far reaching consequences.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Soo Yen

    Not really loving the current hottest book in Malaysia. Too much money and too many characters/banks/fake companies /parties to keep track of. There's a lot of long technical financial details that are not easily understood for the laypeople. The book is more suited for those in the banking or finance industry.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Karthik Karunanithy

    One of the best expose put together in such an engaging manner. Page turner, as every page had me going "wow, really". It's also interesting how the news I have read over the years have all been tied together in a single book -- and the way it's written by Wright and Hope leaves me wondering how did they achieve to write it in a way that is descriptive yet non judgemental. You'd almost think Najib was just an ultimate fool who kept trusting the wrong people.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Danielle Fung

    It is very detailed and accurate yet written in a way that is light for what a complex story it is. Love this so much!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Baljit

    A great read especially as it’s so close to home. On what is the largest scandal in the financial world the intricacies of the deals are broken down to bite sized chapters making it easy to handle. The writers describe the various characters involved to give the reader enough detail to picture him or her, hence it does not come across as a dry report, more as a mini series

  23. 4 out of 5

    Akmal A.

    Billion Dollar Whale Kes 1MDB ini kalau kita fikirkan dalam-dalam taklah muncul begitu je. Bukan disebabkan Jho Low atau Najib Razak atau Rosmah semata walaupun mereka adalah peran utama dalam skandal ini, tapi ianya disebabkan telah lamanya iklim rasuah wujud dalam pentadbiran dari peringkat atas sehinggalah peringkat bawah. Rasuah kalau kita faham bukan habis setakat hulur duit bawah meja sahaja, rasuah ini wujud sehingga ke institusi pendidikan yang mana ada bahagian-bahagian dari kebenaran se Billion Dollar Whale Kes 1MDB ini kalau kita fikirkan dalam-dalam taklah muncul begitu je. Bukan disebabkan Jho Low atau Najib Razak atau Rosmah semata walaupun mereka adalah peran utama dalam skandal ini, tapi ianya disebabkan telah lamanya iklim rasuah wujud dalam pentadbiran dari peringkat atas sehinggalah peringkat bawah. Rasuah kalau kita faham bukan habis setakat hulur duit bawah meja sahaja, rasuah ini wujud sehingga ke institusi pendidikan yang mana ada bahagian-bahagian dari kebenaran sengaja ditutup dan dibungkam atas alasan yang karut. Alatas dalam bukunya The Sociology of Corruption, rasuah ditakrifkan sebagai pencurian melalui penipuan terhadap bahan pemerintah, syarikat swasta ataupun orang awam. Rasuah terdiri dari tiga komponen, iaitu, penyuapan, pemerasan dan nepotisme. Ada satu benang yang menghubungkan ketiga-tiga jenis rasuah itu, iaitu, meletakkan kepentingan masyarakat umum di bawah kepentingan peribadi serta pecah amanah. Membaca buku Billion Dollar Whale begitu saja tidak lengkap kalau kita tidak faham rasuah itu sendiri. Ada eloknya kalau kita baca buku-buku tentang rasuah, antara yang bagus ialah dari S. Hussein Alatas, Rasuah – Sifat, Sebab dan Fungsi keluaran DBP. Beliau menarik dari sejarah Empayar Romawi dan Empayar China Kuno dan dari situ kita boleh faham rasuah bukanlah perkara baru dalam pentadbiran ianya tetap berlaku dan tugas kita ialah untuk memastikan kegiatan salahlaku dan pecah amanah ini menjadi seminimal mungkin supaya dapat hidup harmoni. Dengan memahami sejarah Empayar Romawi, Alatas menyatakan tiga sebab-sebab rasuah; peribadi, institusi dan situasi. Antara contoh, Julius Caesar adalah antara pemimpin yang paling buruk dalam sejarah Romawi kerana dia merampas kekayaan wilayah untuk keuntungan peribadi. Perangainya saling tak tumpah dengan perangai-perangai yang ada dalam barisan ahli politik kita. Caesar yang suka memberi wang sogok kepada askar-askarnya serta mengadakan hiburan yang terlampau banyak kepada rakyatnya supaya rakyat lupa akan salahlakunya. Akhirnya rasuah telah menjadi gaya hidup empayar Romawi, dan ini juga telah berlaku bukan saja di Malaysia malah di negara-negara bekas jajahan seperti Vietnam, Filipina dan jiran kita Indonesia. Ada satu yang perlu diberi perhatian. Alatas menyatakan seperti yang dicatat oleh Wang An Shih masalah rasuah yang berlaku dalam Empayar China Kuno yang masih sesuai dengan situasi sekarang. “Kita akan mendapati pegawai tinggi menerima dan memberi sogokan dan hadiah-hadiah dan menjalankan perniagaan peribadi, sama sekali tidak menghiraukan bahawa mereka akan dianggap rasuah. Pegawai ikan bilis pula akan melakukan apa sahaja untuk mendapatkan wang, bukan hanya di dalam perniagaan atau tukar-menukar barangan, malahan sampai sanggup meminta sedekah sekalipun. Setelah mencipta nama sebagai perasuah, mereka menjadi alpa dan tidak mengira apa-apa lagi kecuali kedudukan mereka. Sikap kesungguhan dan pengabdian kepada masyarakat dilupai. Dengan mengabaikan kewajiban mereka sebagai pegawai, pastinya kerajaan tidak mungkin dapat mencapai kemajuan yang cemerlang.” Buku ini pada saya adalah cebisan daripada rasuah yang terjadi di negara ini. Rasuah masih berkuasa dan yang paling parah dalam pemikiran. Rasuah tidak terhenti setakat Najib, Rosmah, Jho Low dan Mahathir tetapi rasuah sebenarnya telah meresap merasuk masyarakat kita. Ianya sudah menjadi gaya hidup sebenarnya tidak ada titik terang dan susah untuk kita bergerak kedepan kalau tidak ada kefahaman yang lengkap tentang rasuah itu sendiri. Pendapat saya sendiri, jika benar-benar kerajaan memandang rasuah adalah masalah yang serius dan perlu dibanteras, SPRM saja tidak cukup. Perlu pelajaran yang komprehensif dan kajian yang mendalam lagi untuk kita menghapuskan terus supaya ideologi rasuah tidak lagi subur di negara kita.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Hdspce

    This book is about the biggest kleptocracy the world has ever seen. Billions of dollars siphoned from the small economy of Malaysia (and more from loans guaranteed by the country) into fake bank accounts established in tax havens, eventually reaching the pockets of a select few, amongst which, the (ex) prime minister of Malaysia. The grand architect - a young, round chinese man with a boyish grin (who some say looks like a panda). A man who's life is surrounded by oppulence and stardom, who throw This book is about the biggest kleptocracy the world has ever seen. Billions of dollars siphoned from the small economy of Malaysia (and more from loans guaranteed by the country) into fake bank accounts established in tax havens, eventually reaching the pockets of a select few, amongst which, the (ex) prime minister of Malaysia. The grand architect - a young, round chinese man with a boyish grin (who some say looks like a panda). A man who's life is surrounded by oppulence and stardom, who throws parties that puts Crazy Rich Asians to shame, who gambles with millions at the table, who lives a lifestyle that is unheard of, all at the expense of the future generations of a country, whom will be straddled to pay down one of the biggest financial black holes ever caused.... by a scam. This book also shows how the global financial system is willing to corroborate financial fraud at this scale (disguised as business opportunities in developing countries), as long as it profits handsomely. They are willing to turn a blind eye to how their actions victimises millions of citizens of a developing nation, and how it eliminates any possibility these people have of building better lives for themselves. The world isn't a fair place; not that we did not know it already. *Ivanhoe (producer of Crazy Rich Asians) have acquired the rights to turn this true story into a Hollywood film. Hopefully they would donate some of their proceeds to Malaysia.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Wei Li

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A compelling read from start to finish, broken only by odd repetition of facts. When news about the 1MDB scandal first broke out, it was hard to process. Each breaking news article has only a piece of a puzzle that people didn’t know existed. This book is the closest I’ve read so far to explaining the picture of that puzzle. The scandal was confusing because it involved multiple government officials, transfers, scams, banks, and auditors. The players themselves did not know how many pieces they A compelling read from start to finish, broken only by odd repetition of facts. When news about the 1MDB scandal first broke out, it was hard to process. Each breaking news article has only a piece of a puzzle that people didn’t know existed. This book is the closest I’ve read so far to explaining the picture of that puzzle. The scandal was confusing because it involved multiple government officials, transfers, scams, banks, and auditors. The players themselves did not know how many pieces they held. This account paints Jho Low as the mastermind. Evidence against him so far remains circumstantial and he remains tentatively on the run. The writers are thoroughly convinced of Jho Low’s guilt. The reader questions if what the authorities have is even enough to put him away. It’s like reading the end of a crime novel and the serial killer is still at large. And has good lawyers. And has Alicia Keys’ husband on speed dial. Sadly we’ll have to see how events continue to unfold as the end of the book by no means signals the end of the story. (Even as we give all the celebrities that hung out with him major side-eye from now. Seriously? Miranda Kerr? Seriously?) Two standout moments for me: a) when Jordan Belfort came to one of Jho’s party and immediately knew a scam is underfoot b) when Najib went onstage before a Psy concert in PENANG and the concert goers basically booed him off the stage. You go, Glen Coco. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Malaysians so excited about a book before nor have I read one that states so baldly the mechanics of corruption, finance and politics in Malaysia. Sad as that sounds. I hope the movie comes out soon because the irony is dripping too thick for it not to.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Wenqi

    Parvenu, a new addition to my vocabulary while reading this book. It is defined as, one that has recently or suddenly risen to an unaccustomed position of wealth or power and has not yet gained the prestige, dignity, or manner associated with it. Jho Low accurately fits the description. This is someone whose manner is incompatible with the money that he has acquired so suddenly through unscrupulous means. And the obviousness did not go unnoticed, especially by people who have often rub shoulders Parvenu, a new addition to my vocabulary while reading this book. It is defined as, one that has recently or suddenly risen to an unaccustomed position of wealth or power and has not yet gained the prestige, dignity, or manner associated with it. Jho Low accurately fits the description. This is someone whose manner is incompatible with the money that he has acquired so suddenly through unscrupulous means. And the obviousness did not go unnoticed, especially by people who have often rub shoulders with the truly rich, such as the employees at the Christie's. While the oblivious Malaysians were going through our day-to-day routine back in 2007, Low had started his plan on squandering away our nation's hard-earned ringgit. To go even further back in the history, all of this had probably started since Low’s childhood. Growing up in a family in which money carries a lot of weight, being taught to cozy up to the rich and famous, these contribute to Low's character. His upbringing taught him to view the world as a treasury, in the literal sense, which you could get as much wealth as you like, if you have the ability to do so, paying no heed to the laws and regulations, and to use people as a mean of obtaining wealth while art is nothing to him but a "movable and untraceable asset" . Despite leaden with facts spanning about one decade, the authors have managed to make this book a pleasurable read and understandable to an outsider to the financial world.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Luk

    Just before reading this book, I read Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. I love these pieces by investigative journalists, especially when it comes to how the perpetrators would go into such lengths to cover up their trails, only to be deciphered bit by bit, until the house of cards come crumpling down. The book is unbiased and well written. If you're looking for one of those books where you're holding to the edge of your seats, this isn't quite it. But there are many jaw-dropping anecdotes about Jho L Just before reading this book, I read Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. I love these pieces by investigative journalists, especially when it comes to how the perpetrators would go into such lengths to cover up their trails, only to be deciphered bit by bit, until the house of cards come crumpling down. The book is unbiased and well written. If you're looking for one of those books where you're holding to the edge of your seats, this isn't quite it. But there are many jaw-dropping anecdotes about Jho Low's spending that was just incredible - incredibly stupid or smart, depending on how you want to look at it. I reckon Jho's pretty smart to pull of what he did. But I sincerely hope justice is brought to him, his family and all perpetrators involved. And I sincerely hope the Malaysian people get back what is deservedly theirs and move on with positive changes to their country.

  28. 4 out of 5

    David Dayen

    I imagine all financial journalists have "the one that got away," the story they wanted to cover but didn't for some reason. Maybe they got scooped, maybe they didn't have the resources to make it happen. For me, the tale of the theft of 1MDB, a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, is that story. I was asked to write about it by a publication that changed its mind. But in preparing for that, I learned enough about the surface details and the cast of characters, from Goldman Sachs to Leo DiCaprio to I imagine all financial journalists have "the one that got away," the story they wanted to cover but didn't for some reason. Maybe they got scooped, maybe they didn't have the resources to make it happen. For me, the tale of the theft of 1MDB, a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, is that story. I was asked to write about it by a publication that changed its mind. But in preparing for that, I learned enough about the surface details and the cast of characters, from Goldman Sachs to Leo DiCaprio to Russell Simmons' ex-wife, to think "this is going to make an amazing book someday." It did! And I hadn't even focused on Jho Low - I was focused on the Goldman angle. Low's story of outright stealing over $5 billion in public money from the fund to finance his outrageous celebrity lifestyle is incredibly cinematic. Only it will never be filmed, because the story indicts Hollywood's biggest players as caught up in Low's con. The story reveals how money can buy even the most awkward social misfit into a celebrity world of the privileged. And it shows how ill-equipped the global financial system is to spot frauds, allowing years of siphoning billions from the people of Malaysia into the pockets of an unsavory crew. Wright and Hope, who covered this story for the Wall Street Journal, are comfortable with the extra space and ability to broaden the narrative, drawing a full picture of Jho Low and his motivations. Great stuff.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Aman

    A page turning thriller and a wider indictment are a rare combination that most business books (arguably books in general) books fail to pull off. This one does, spectacularly - though I'm not sure if it's the reporting or the sheer crazy of reality. I have a high tolerance for the crazies - very high tbh. But there are some things so crazy as to make one incredible about their veracity - this book's Jordan Belfort moment tops my list of those things. This is a book that deserves to be made into A page turning thriller and a wider indictment are a rare combination that most business books (arguably books in general) books fail to pull off. This one does, spectacularly - though I'm not sure if it's the reporting or the sheer crazy of reality. I have a high tolerance for the crazies - very high tbh. But there are some things so crazy as to make one incredible about their veracity - this book's Jordan Belfort moment tops my list of those things. This is a book that deserves to be made into a movie but probably never will because of conflicts of interest. Solid 4/5.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    Why I'm interested in this book at the first place As a fan of true-crime genre and with my inquisitive thoughts surrounding the scandal, I knew I need to get a copy. Plus, I love a good exposé. What do I think of this book... now that I've done reading it Now, I wish most of the true-crime could be written like this. This writing style has more substance where as I went through pages to pages.. I can grasp it easily amidst quite of number of people involved. + 1. It is quite interesting to know how Why I'm interested in this book at the first place As a fan of true-crime genre and with my inquisitive thoughts surrounding the scandal, I knew I need to get a copy. Plus, I love a good exposé. What do I think of this book... now that I've done reading it Now, I wish most of the true-crime could be written like this. This writing style has more substance where as I went through pages to pages.. I can grasp it easily amidst quite of number of people involved. + 1. It is quite interesting to know how the money comes, where it goes, and how it end up got spent on. (Hint: When rich people go shopping) 2. The chain of events that leads up to the exposé 3. The big names that direct/indirectly involved with a brief of their background. 4. There's even 8 pages of colored pictures that puts the respective name to the faces. - 1. Considering the sheer magnitude of this scandal, you might get confused with who is who. Fortunately, the authors had allocated a couple of pages listing down the names of the people that play a key role. Get this 1. If you're a fellow Malaysian, or 2. If you're a fan of financial crime thriller, or 3. If you're a fan of any of the big names mentioned in the entertainment industry (the synopsis pretty much will tell you who they are) 4. If you a fan or had watched Wolf of Wall Street (I haven't yet..it's in my bucketlist)

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