A series based on a best-selling book about Malaysia’s historic 1MDB corruption scandal is in the works, with no less than Michelle Yeoh, one of the most famous Asian stars, as co-producer.
In 2018, Wall Street Journal reporters Tom Wright and Bradley Hope’s book Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World became a New York Times best-seller and was named the Financial Times 2018 Book of the Year.
It revolves around Low Taek Jho, more commonly known as Jho Low, the fugitive financier at the heart of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, where approximately S$6 billion is said to have been siphoned from 1MDB, a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.
The book delves into the glamorous, high-profile life of Jho Low, as well as the Hollywood celebrities and other famous personalities that he met, partied and did business with around the world, including such luminaries as Australian supermodel and busineswoman Miranda Kerr and Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio.
Low was a close associate of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is currently on trial for abusing his position to obtain millions in funds from 1MDB, and facing 21 counts of money laundering.
At the time Najib’s trial began, one commentator was moved to say: “This is likely to be the mother of legal battles in Malaysian history.”
Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, was also charged in 2019, with 17 charges of money laundering, bribery and corruption involving millions.
Low, who has been at large for several years now, is wanted in Malaysia, Singapore, Luxembourg, Switzerland as well as by the US Department of Justice.
The Hollywood Reporter said on Nov 22 that the series based on Billion Dollar Whale has several other prominent names attached to it, including three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and playwright David Henry Hwang; Beau Willimon, creator of House of Cards; and SK Global, the co-financiers of Crazy Rich Asians.
Ms Yeoh, who starred in the runaway hit, Crazy Rich Asians, and was last seen in Disney/Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, drew flack in 2018, when she posted a selfie on Instagram holding Billion Dollar Whale.
She wrote that it was a “fascinating book”, adding, “I’m loving this brilliantly reported new book by journalists Bradley Hope and Tom Wright.”
However, some netizens called Ms Yeoh out for being an alleged supporter of former Prime Minister Najib, whose involvement in the 1MDB scandal was a large factor in his toppling from power in the 2018 election.
In 2013, the Ipoh-born Yeoh openly endorsed Najib at a gathering organised by the Federation of Chinese Descendants of Selangor on Saturday. She said:
“We have a leader here who has done so many good things and will do more. I hope from the bottom of my heart that he will remain as the Prime Minister and I ask all of you to give him a strong mandate.”
Yeoh was slammed for her comments then, with many asking her if she had “any idea how her fellow countrymen live” before urging her to reconsider her decision and “not become a traitor”.
Responding to the intense backlash that followed, Yeoh reiterated her support for Najib as she said: “This is a democratic country and we are free to voice our opinion. I believe all of us want to do good for our country.”
Since news of her role in the movie began, Yeoh has been slammed as “appalling” for her “lack of principles”. Malaysian cartoonist Zunar told online news portal Malaysiakini that Yeoh was far worse than Najib loyalists.
Zunar said that Yeoh’s involvement in the film’s production exposed her as someone who “supports a friend when he is in power, and steps on him when he has fallen.”