Listen y’all, we’re way busy this week so we ain’t gonna get as in-depth as we originally planned up in here. But all that talk about internet entrepreneur Lynda Weinman throwing down the big bucks on a new mansion in the Bird Streets ‘hood got your gurl Yolanda Yakketyyak thinkin’ about another mansion located just around the corner. We especially like this house because we can use it to springboard into a true story, one laced with international espionage, greedy prime minister’s wives, priceless art, countless celebrities, Hollywood blockbusters, embezzled billions, and even murder.
Though similar-looking to Ms. Weinman’s latest acquisiton – even the paint scheme is almost identical – this property is bigger, flashier, and even more expensive. It’s the priciest house in the Hollywood Hills, in fact. This is arguably the house that kicked LA’s spec-mansion boom into high gear in 2012. In November of that year, this place sold for a screaming $38,980,000, an amount that flabbergasted even the most jaded real estate watcher. Not only was this LA’s biggest sale of that year, it was also double the price that any house in the Ho-wood Hills had ever commanded.
What made that pricetag seem even more surreal was the fact that the property had sold for just $9 million exactly two years earlier. Yep. In just 730 days (or so) the property appreciated by $30 million. Of course, it also morphed into a very different house in that timespan.
The structure was originally built in the 1980s for Mexican-American actor Ricardo Montalban. Though he had starring roles all over the small and big screens during his decade-long Hollywood career, arguably his most memorable role was shilling Chryslers in TV ads during the ’70s.
In the mid-80’s, Montalban commissioned much-lauded Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta to design a residence for him on the so-called “Crown” of the Bird Streets, the most desirable (and expensive) summit in the neighborhood with unimpeded views of the LA basin, the ocean, and the mountains. The result of Mr. Legorreta’s efforts is the 6,679-square-foot boxy thing you see there on the left.
Shortly after Montalban’s January 2009 death, his heirs put the property up for sale at $20 million. It finally sold in November 2010 – at the height of the recession – for just $9 million to Irish property developer Paddy McKillen, who commissioned architect firm McClean Design to remodel the hell out of the place.
Listen, y’all, we know style and design is very much a matter of personal taste. We know that many people justly complained that Mr. Montalban’s house did not take advantage of the property’s stupendous views. And we also know that there are just as many people who loathe Mr. Legorreta’s work as those that love it. Fair enough. But Yolanda happens to be in the latter category, and thus she was greatly disappointed when the “remodel” essentially turned out to be a complete teardown and transformation into one of those all-but-cliche glassy modern coke palaces that dot LA’. If you love it, that’s cool. We’re sure many people do. But in your gurl’s humble opinion, it looks like an already-dated disjointed monstrosity. Albeit a very expensive and shiny monstrosity.
We do love the views, however. And the interior, though a bit too austere for your gurl’s particular taste, is undeniably wow-generating. The house is supposedly around 13,000 square feet, though we’ve heard rumors that the entire compound (including detached garage and guest house) weighs in at nearly 18,000.
But let’s quit digressin’ and buckle down on the real story here. The house sold for $38,980,000 in November 2012. The buyer was “Oriole Drive LA LLC”, widely-known to be a front for mysterious young “Malaysian billionaire” Jho Low. (FYI, that’s pronounced Jay Low, like J.Lo. Not like Joe Low or Jay Ho Low.)
Disclaimer: most of the stuff we’re going to say in the rest of this story is all alleged so instead of Yolanda inserting “allegedly! Allegedly!” into every damn sentence, let’s use our noggins, keep it 100, and remember that Big Brother is always watching. Okay? Okay.
Young Mr. Low, Malaysian by birth but Chinese by heritage, comes from a relatively wealthy but not baller-style-affluent family residing on the island of Penang. He was educated at the elite and old-as-dirt Harrow School in London, where he cunningly cultivated a close friendship with Riza Aziz, the stepson of a powerful and ambitious Malaysian politician named Najib Razak. Low later matriculated to the prestigious Wharton business school at UPenn, where he continued to forge relationships with a number of powerful and well-connected Middle East and South Asian figures.
By the mid-2000s, around the time Mr. Razak ascended to the position of Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mr. Low had ingratiated himself completely into the family. Mr. Aziz, now Mr. Low’s best friend, introduced Low to his jewelry- and Birkin-loving mother, Rosmah Mansor. Ms. Mansor reportedly took an instant liking to Mr. Low and, in turn, introduced him to her husband.
Since Ms. Mansor reportedly wields a high degree of influence over her hubby, it must have been a cakewalk for Mr. Low to become a close confidante of the future Prime Minister. And after Razak was sworn in to his current position in April 2009, things began moving very, very quickly.
Just a month after taking on his new role, Mr. Razak, aided and abetted by Mr. Low, kickstarted a massive investment fund (1MDB) by selling $1.2 billion worth of federal bonds. The fund was purportedly set up to invest in projects benefiting the citizens of Malaysia and the country itself. While it did handsomely benefit a select few citizens – Mr. Low and PM Razak among them – it did so illegally and at the expense of the entire nation (and several other nations, too).
In September 2009, 1MDB transferred $700 million in cash to the Swiss bank account of a offshore entity in the Seychelles later found to be connected to Mr. Low. Within a few weeks, the first tales of Mr. Low’s financial largess began dotting the NYC gossip columns. The then-27-year-old Mr. Low had begun leasing luxury apartments in the city valued at a total of $150,000 a month for himself and an entourage of bodyguards and assistants. Nearly every night, he went out and dropped tens of thousands at the city’s most elite nightclubs and lounges.
In 2010, Mr. Low began investing in real estate, paying $17,500,000 to Mohamed Hadid for the so-called “Pyramid House” in Beverly Hills (later given to Mr. Aziz), and $23,980,000 for a condo at the Park Laurel in NYC (later sold to Mr. Aziz for $33,500,000). He also purchased a $33 million condo at Trump International before quickly flipping it at a loss and plunking down $30,550,000 for a penthouse at the Time Warner Center in 2011.
However, 2012 is when things really started to get dicey. Early that year, 1MDB’s financial statements show it made a payment of $1.2 billion to an Abu Dhabi government firm to finance a new energy infrastructure for Malaysia. The Abu Dhabi company adamantly denies it received any of the $1.2 billion it was expecting. So where did the money go? Can y’all guess, my little cuties? Teehee.
Did we mention Mr. Low has an insatiable love for celebrity company? He loves it. Oh golly, how he loves it. And he’s willing to spend big bucks to get it. He once bought Lindsay Lohan 23 bottles of Cristal for her 23rd birthday. He donated $250,000 to Alicia Keys’ charitable foundation. He gave Kimmy K a $300,000 Ferrari as a wedding present (not for her marriage to Kanye. The wedding to that other guy. Remember that tragic affair? Lawd have mercy.)
But we digress. In September 2012, 1MDB sold its stake in a Middle East joint venture for approximately $2.3 billion. At least that’s what PM Razak would like you to believe. There’s a good bit of evidence that no sale ever took place. In any case, the supposed proceeds – which may or may not exist – went directly into an oddly-named offshore entity wholly owned by 1MDB that’s headquartered in the Cayman Islands, of course. Who exactly manages or has access to that particular account is still unclear, but it was shortly after that transaction that Mr. Low’s spending really kicked into the highest Gatsby-like gear imaginable.
That November, Low paid (as previously mentioned) $38,980,000 in cash for the house above. That very same month he threw himself an epic birthday party to own all parties. Ready for this? Mr. Low built a giant tent – complete with an indoor Ferris wheel – right on the Vegas strip and then flew just about every A-list celeb in the world to wish him a happy birthday. And we’re sure they did so solely out of love and respect for Mr. Low, right? Riiiiight. Attendees included Leo DiCaprio, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Britney Spears, Robert de Niro, Michael Phelps, Megan Fox, Jamie Foxx, Kate Upton, Paris Hilton, Tobey Maguire, Busta Rhymes, Chris Brown, and more. Several reports by Vegas gossip columns estimated the total cost of the one-night bash potentially topped $10 million. We wouldn’t be shocked in the slightest if the actual all-in tab was double or even triple that.
By 2013, Mr. Low was bankrolling the $100 million Wolf of Wall Street (starring his LA neighbor Leo DiCaprio). He was buying the world’s most expensive art – including a $179 million Picasso, the most expensive painting ever sold at auction. He already had the mansions, the cars, the jets, and the yacht. But so seemingly desperate to unload the cash was he that he began giving it away. Literally. He gave $50 million to a cancer hospital in Texas, then $25 million to the humanitarian service Irin. Perhaps most bizarrely, Mr. Low also donated $20 million to a high-profile effort to conserve the wild’s big cats.
Mr. Low spent so many untold millions on so many different things that we can’t possibly quantify them all on here. It would take weeks. But we did a quick and dirty (and conservative) calculation, just taking into account known prices for items he bought. This includes real estate, his yacht, select art, movie productions, and philanthropic donations. We came up with a figure well north of $600 million. And that doesn’t include his nightly nightclub splurges, birthday parties, his private jets (at least two), furniture, clothing, miscellaneous art, bodyguards, attorneys, assistants, pilots, sailors, chauffeurs, and the outrageous taxes and maintenance costs that his assets incur (property taxes for the Bird Streets house alone are nearly $500,000 per year). We think it’s safe to say he’s forked out a billion since 2009, easily.
Finally, in September 2015, Mr. Low’s ride aboard the baller’s train came to a screeching halt – sort of. As many as five countries froze bank accounts connected to Mr. Low and 1MDB as part of their money-laundering investigations. Though Mr. Low has stayed mum on the situation while holed up somewhere in Asia for the past several months, he’s still believed to have the use of his $125 million yacht, Equanimity.
In January 2016, as part of a global investigation, Swiss authorities announced they believed as much as $4 billion in cash may have been siphoned out of 1MDB’s bank accounts in just 6 years. Did you catch that, beotches? That’s billion with a big ol’ B. That’s just an incredible and flabbergasting amount of money. The audaciousness of Mr. Low, Prime Minister Razak, and others involved with this record-setting global heist just appalls the normally-jaded Yolanda to no end.
Did Jho Low foresee his lavish lifestyle coming to an end almost as quickly as it began? That’s the $4 billion question. Maybe his entourage of hangers-on and assistants did not see the end coming. But Yolanda thinks Mr. Low knew all along. Make no mistake, beotches, Mr. Low is a very clever young man. Even with near-limitless cash at his disposal, spending more than a billion in just a handful of years tells Yolanda that Mr. Low knew this living dream would be shattered eventually. That’s spending at a level that even the richest people in the world can’t sustain for very long.
The fact that these characters got away with their heist for 6 whole years while living the flashiest lifestyle might be the saddest part of this story. And they’re still on the loose, at least as far as Jho Low is concerned. Though his bank accounts have been frozen in multiple countries – including the US – he’s still out there in the wild, enjoying the proceeds of his recent fire-sale of artworks. He took big losses on the art, but we doubt cares much about those lost tens of millions at this point.
So what will happen to Mr. Low’s giant house in the Birds? That’s pretty much anyone’s guess, but Yolanda would still bet a mega-mansion that it will not remain in Mr. Low’s possession for much longer. It’s well-known in LA that FBI agents have already interviewed several people associated with his real estate deals (agents and the like). Whether the property will be spectacularly seized or quietly sold is the part we are unsure about. We also think the house is now worth significantly less than the $39 million Low paid. The spec-mansion boom that swept LA has considerably slowed. Big ol’ spreads like this one are currently dead weight on the market. But if Mr. Low is seriously looking to unload the thing and doesn’t mind taking a loss, he doesn’t have to put it on the market. Just go knockin’ next door, hunny.
Before we jet on out for a strictly-bizness dinner, we’re just going to leave this little video of Jho Low spending $2 million on a wedding proposal to Taiwanese pop star Elva Hsiao.
Yolanda saw this years ago, but we still can’t stomach watching it again. Just far too much secondhand embarrassment. She said no. Oh Lordy, she said no.
Can we just say one last thing before we wrap this sordid tale up, y’all? We promise this is the last thing. Okay, here goes. Yolanda has lived in LA all her life and known many damn big ballers. And in all our life we ain’t never seen a rich young man (or woman, for that matter) have so much trouble gettin’ booty. And Mr. Low, if you’re reading this, we know what you’re thinking but no way, baby. Yes, Yolanda is hot as hell. Yes, she got an ass that dreams were made of. But all the money in the world can’t buy none of this.