by Eli Clifton
One of the key groups opposing the P5+1’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran is the mysterious pressure group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). Headed by George W. Bush administration diplomat Mark Wallace, UANI is largely funded by precious metal speculator Thomas Kaplan, who links a number of his investments to instability in the Middle East. Wallace and UANI portray themselves as experts on money laundering and financial crime. They regularly write public letters and engage in publicity campaigns against banks and businesses they suspect of violating sanctions or even conducting legal business with Iran.
Both Kaplan and Wallace (who also works for Kaplan’s investment firm, the Electrum Group), appear to be linked, both through philanthropy and business deals, to Jho Low. The Justice Department has implicated this Malaysian investor in the fraudulent siphoning of hundreds of millions of dollars from Malaysia’s economic development fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). Low also stands accused of having “laundered more than $400 million of funds.”
On August 2, the Wall Street Journal reported that Low’s Hong Kong-based firm, Jynwel Capital, invested $150 million in the Electrum Group more than three years ago, raising questions about the source of the funds. According to the WSJ, “There is no indication that Mr. Kaplan is being questioned by authorities or that he believed the money was coming from anyone other than Mr. Low and his firm.”
That may be true, but UANI’s principals were deeply involved in business transactions and reputation-building for an individual now implicated in a massive money-laundering and fraud investigation.
Wallace serves as COO of Kaplan’s company, Electrum Group, whose board includes Low and Kevin Kokko, a senior vice president at Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund and a former employee of Tony Blair Associates.
Low made a name for himself as “a mysterious 20-something Wharton grad who loves Cristal,” according to a 2009 Gawker profile of his high-profile partying with celebrities, including Jamie Foxx and Paris Hilton, and big spending at nightclubs in Manhattan and Las Vegas.
But Low worked to rebrand his playboy image over the past several years. Kaplan, who also serves on the board of the 92nd Street Y, helped with that effort. A 2014 Jynwel Capital promotional video, which primarily serves to promote Low as the face of the company, prominently features Kaplan offering a glowing character reference. Following a slow-motion handshake with Low, Kaplan says:
What do we look for in a partner? Someone first and foremost whose word is their bond, that when they say they’re going to do something, you can bank it.
Kaplan reappears moments later and declares:
Everything that they’ve done since we have become partners has reinforced the fact that they really mean it.
Low also pledged $20 million to Kaplan’s big cat conservation group, Panthera, and joined the board of the organization. Low promotes his partnership with Panthera on his personal website.
United Against Nuclear Iran did not respond to questions about Wallace’s partnership with Low or whether Low provided any financial support to UANI.
Two years ago, the group’s donor rolls were among the documents a plaintiff was seeking in a defamation case against UANI until the Justice Department quashed the suit with an invocation of state secrets.
Photo: Jho Low via Twitter