Passport procurement firm responds to (some) questions about alleged ties to Jho Low

Following explosive revelations this week that 1MDB-linked-fugitive-slash-living-glazed-pastry Jho Low had gotten a new home — and citizenship — on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, multiple media outlets attributed the apparent ease of its acquisition to the passport purveyors to the rich, famous, and, in this case, wanted: Henley & Partners.

However, in a emailed statement last night, the firm denied flat-out working for Low, referring to “numerous misleading articles” alleging their involvement, and maintaining that they had not “had the opportunity to engage with the articles or the ‘evidence’ presented, which has been taken entirely out of context to fit a narrative that does not represent an objective assessment of the situation.” The firm went on to defend its record, and to note that decisions regarding citizenship were ultimately the purview of the Cypriot government, not the firm.

“Contrary to what has been stated in multiple articles, Mr Low has never been a citizenship client of Henley & Partners,” the statement reads (their underlining).

“Whilst he approached Henley & Partners’ in 2015, the firm declined to accept Mr. Low as a client. It is therefore false to state that ‘Henley & Partners helped Jho Low acquire Cypriot citizenship,'” it adds, citing a line from a Coconuts KL story.

OK, Henley & Partners, fair dues. We didn’t call you. Our bad.

But in the interest of not making the same mistake twice, Coconuts KL reached back out to Henley & Partners clear up some lingering questions on some of the points included in their email. Specifically, if Low wasn’t a “citizenship client,” had he been a client of Henley (or any of the several subsidiaries of its Henley & Partners Group) in any other capacity? And if Henley hadn’t helped Low secure Cypriot citizenship, had the firm helped him obtain a passport from St. Kitts and Nevis, as has previously been reported?

Finally, we were also curious about the authenticity of a document released by the Greek-language newspaper Politis purporting to be an invoice from a Henley affiliate called Henley Estates to a company named Donnica Management, which was listed as owing Henley a sizeable commission on an apparent real estate transaction for one “Mr Low Taek Jho.”

In its response to our follow-up questions, Henley’s Singapore-based PR team asked that we “bear in mind is that [there] are many parties including media publications that might be politically-motivated and/or driven by their own personal agendas,” before going on to note that, as prominent players in the citizenship-by-investment industry, they had a vested interest in ensuring the whole game is on the up-and-up.

OK. Fine.

They went on to state that “Mr. Low has never been a client of Henley & Partners in any capacity,” that the firm had not helped with the St. Kitts passport, that Low was never a client” (their italics) of any of the other members of the Henley & Partners Group of companies, and that they had declined Low as a client after conducting a due diligence check (though they declined to elaborate on the particulars).

In its follow-up, however, the firm did not address the authenticity of the purported invoice from Henley Estates bearing Low’s name. Instead, it said that no “Henley & Partners Group company has ever been in any contractual relationship with Mr Low or any corporate vehicle that he controls.”

Again, OK.

But then again, that’s not the same as the invoice being an outright fake. And given the well-documented nature of shell corporations (if you need a refresher, check out that new Meryl Streep movie on Netflix), the notion of “control” over a corporate vehicle is nebulous at best. As such, we looked at the invoice a bit closer.

Though the document, as we noted, can’t be independently authenticated, it lists Henley Estates as the payee, complete with banking information for the firm’s account at Bank of Valletta — an institution Henley has a documented relationship with.

We also looked at the firm to which the invoice is addressed, a Donnica Management Ltd. Donnica, to the best of our knowledge (which is to say, to the best of Google’s knowledge), does not have a web presence outside of a handful of Cyprus-centric corporate registry sites, and the information available there is scarce.

What the sites do divulge, however, is that the company was established in May of 2015 — around the time Low reportedly was shopping for a Cypriot passport. The registry also lists the director and secretary of the company as… another company! Namely, a Memphisco (Nominees) Limited.

A quick look at Memphisco’s registration shows that that company lists as its director a Chrysostomos Tsitsios, apparently a law firm that is similarly listed as the director and secretary of numerous other companies. (Remember what we said about shell corporations?)

Based on all that, it would indeed appear that Jho Low probably wasn’t ever a client of — or, to use the firm’s own term of art, “in a contractual relationship with” — Henley & Partners or its affiliate, Henley Estates. Indeed, it would appear that Henley may not have even dealt with — again, to use the firm’s own terminology — a “corporate vehicle that [Low] controls.”

No, it would appear, based on an (unverifiable) document that Henley Estates was engaged in some form of business with a corporation called Donnica Management, which was a corporate vehicle controlled by a corporate entity called Memphisco, which was a corporate entity controlled by a lawyer called Chrysostomos Tsitsios.

OK. Certainly sounds above board.

So, in order to clear up one more niggling, malingering question, we reached back out to Henley & Partners this afternoon. Was that invoice authentic? And if so, did Henley Estates, or any of the other companies in the Henley & Partners Group, conduct any due diligence with Donnica, Memphisco, or Chrysostomos Tsitsios to determine whether Donnica was a corporate entity controlled by Mr. Low?

As of press time, the firm has yet to respond, but one thing appears to be clear — Henley & Partners never worked with Jho Low. At least, not on paper.

OK.

As usual, stay tuned for updates.

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