When you’re standing at the altar with your soon-to-be spouse and hear the romantic words of “I do” tremble from your lips, you expect that oath to last forever. Love should never fade over time, or at least that’s everyone’s assumption on their wedding day.
When Alexandra Tolstoy first met Russian billionaire Sergei Pugachev, the electricity between them could light up a city for weeks. But, as Alexandra floated through her lavish life thinking all would end well that started well, she quickly realized tragedy was on the horizon — and approaching fast.
You’d never think someone with such a charming smile, like Alexandra Tolstoy, could possibly hide such hurt and terror behind her eyes. After all, how could someone with such a famous last name end up in trouble?
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If you’re thinking, “Hmm, Tolstoy… like the famous author?” you’re absolutely correct. The British woman was a distant relative of the writer, but she didn’t pursue the same avenue that he did. After boarding school, she went to Russia and fell in love.
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All her life she dreamed of spending years exploring Russia’s culture. While there, she met — and fell hard for — a horse-riding Cossack. However, life was a struggle, as they had very little money.
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The couple eventually settled down in Uzbekistan with the little they had. The financial hardship strained their relationship, but it all changed for Alexandra when she was offered a tutoring gig.
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A Russian oligarch named Sergei Pugachev hired Alexandra as a private English tutor, and from day one the two clicked. They quickly became quite fond of each other’s company. It also didn’t hurt that Pugachev was a billionaire.
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Alexandra said, “When I met Sergei, I wasn’t happy in my marriage. And I’d had a very, very stressful time. Sergei felt like this savior coming in. I’d talk to him for hours and hours on the phone.”
How did Pugachev amass such incredible wealth? It started with his co-founding of a private Russian bank called Mezhprombank, which was one of the largest in all of Russia. He also owned ample real estate and the world’s biggest coal mine. The man was a senator, too!
Adam Ferguson / The New York Times
In an interview with BBC news, Alexandra later said, “I just didn’t want to be with anyone else. And I don’t think in my life I’d ever felt like that before. It was electric. I fell so in love with him.”
The life that the billionaire provided her was something she never could have fathomed a few years earlier. She eventually had three children with Pugachev, and they too enjoyed the splendors of his riches.
The family’s wealth was beyond ridiculous. “He’d give me his credit card and I’d go shopping. I had a private jet, I just had to pack my suitcase and go.” However, trouble was brewing.
See, Pugachev was very close with Vladimir Putin, a man you did not want to frustrate. As soon as the Russian leader heard Pugachev got involved with an outsider, he expressed his disgust almost immediately.
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Russian law stated that a senator was forbidden to marry anyone who wasn’t of Russian descent. Not only was Putin baffled at Pugachev’s decision, but he also referred to him as a “traitor.” Pugachev’s vital relationship with the leader was crumbling.
Adam Ferguson / The New York Times
Not only was there a strain due to the fact Alexandra was English, but also because Pugachev was spending far less time around Putin’s inner circle. And, he paid a hefty price for his betrayal to the leader.
Putin, clearly ruffled by Pugachev’s choice to spend time with Alexandra over him, deemed the oligarch an enemy of Russia. Pugachev soon lost his bank and nearly all of his finances. So, he fled Russia, leaving Alexandra behind.
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While Pugachev bounced back and forth between homes in London and France to avoid Russian detainment, Alexandra was living in her own prison of fear. She discovered trackers in all her vehicles placed by Russia’s Deposit Insurance Agency.
The Russian government clearly wasn’t going to let Pugachev off without punishment. In fact, Alexandra even recalled one time when the disgraced-billionaire was driving in London and “two cars tried to squash his car.” Pugachev miraculously escaped.
The DIA even managed to track him down at a random restaurant and made grave demands. “You have to pay 350 million or we will kill you or your family,” they said. “Or, we can cut the finger off your son, and we’ll send it.”
Pugachev’s attitude was now one of complete fear and growing rage. This anger resulted in the complete disintegration of his relationship with Alexandra while she was in London and he was hiding away at their French getaway.
He wanted her and the kids to flee to France, but she couldn’t face the extreme isolation they’d face. Pugachev, in an act of disgust, cut off all forms of financial help and communication. The romance was over.
To this day, Pugachev and Alexandra still don’t have any communication. Once he pulled everything out from under her, her kids became her prime concern. It’s a shame Pugachev didn’t know his wealth and influence could be used against him. His downfall was reminiscent of the tale of Asia’s greatest cheat.
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Leonardo DiCaprio usually hangs out with supermodels, but he had a very different companion at The Wolf of Wall Street premiere. The stranger reportedly befriended Leo by gifting him with a Picasso painting and helping fund the movie. But who exactly was this guy?
The Hollywood Reporter
He was a Malaysian financier named Jho Low. Frequenting star-studded parties and carrying out huge real estate transactions, he was a distinguished businessman and self-made billionaire. At least, that’s what Jho wanted everybody to think.
Unsurprisingly, Jho came from money. His father, Larry Low, worked as an executive at an investment company. Though Larry made millions, his business practices were known for having a shady side, and he dreamed of his son joining him in his shadowy pursuits…
Jho attended the prestigious Harrow School in London. From the onset, he sought the approval of his wealthy and powerful classmates. Jho went so far as to throw a party on a friend’s yacht and fill it with family photos so everyone would think the Lows owned the vessel.
At Harrow, Jho continued to befriend people who he hoped to use later, including Riza Aziz, stepson of eventual Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Riza, below, aspired to be a filmmaker. He and Jho planned one day to produce blockbuster movies together.
After Harrow, Jho studied at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. There, he connected with prominent families and convinced them to take him on as a financial manager — even though he had no experience in the field! After graduating, he became a virtual overnight success in the finance world.
Most people would be content with that kind of money, but not Jho. What he really craved was fame and notoriety. Although he was not talented, Jho realized that he could enter Hollywood’s inner circle by paying stars to spend time with him.
Perhaps foreshadowing his eventual friendship with Leo DiCaprio, Jho poised himself as a 21st-century Jay Gatsby. For his 31st birthday in 2012, Jho set out to put himself on the map by hosting one of the most expensive private parties in history.
He offered Britney Spears hundreds of thousands of dollars to jump out of a cake and perform a couple of songs. The odd request shocked the pop star, but how could she refuse that kind of paycheck? Britney was far from the only star that Jho lured into his social life.
In the philanthropic world, Jho donated huge sums of money to cancer research after having a brush with the disease himself. His generosity brought invitations to high-profile charity events, where he rubbed shoulders with more stars, including Alicia Keys.
Shortly after Miranda Kerr divorced Orlando Bloom, Jho leaped to the opportunity to impress the newly single supermodel. He showered her in gifts, including a $4.5 million diamond, cut into the shape of a heart.
Kerr wasn’t the only celeb who caught his eye. Tabloid reporters spotted Jho partying with socialite Paris Hilton on multiple occasions. He wooed her unsuccessfully but certainly enjoyed seeing photos of the two of them together. It easily justified the cost of paying Paris to hang out with him.
To fulfill his teenage dreams, Jho even bought his own yacht. This was no ordinary boat, either. Dubbed the Equanimity, the superyacht was longer than a football field and boasted its own swimming pool and helicopter pad. The vessel cost a staggering $250 million.
Surrounded by so many visible signs of success, Jho felt unstoppable. He became known as a “whale,” a casino term for an especially notable high-roller. But even as his profile rose, Jho held onto a secret that he desperately hoped nobody would discover.
In 2018, his luck ran out. Wall Street Journal staffers Tom Wright and Bradley Hope published a book about Jho, entitled Billion Dollar Whale. They pulled back the curtain and showed that Jho was nothing more than a fraud and a criminal.
Jho played a central role in abusing 1MDB, a wealth fund run by the Malaysian government. He became president of the account and secretly directed public money into projects that fed his own interests. Wright and Hope estimated that Jho siphoned $4.5 billion away from 1MDB.
Bloomberg / Goh Seng Chong
Of course, Jho had friends all the way at the top of the Malaysian government, including Prime Minister Najib Razak. The PM, however, was arrested on corruption charges shortly after leaving office. If the head of a country could not escape such severe consequences, what could Jho do?
The Malaysian Insight / Hasnoor Hussain
He fled. In 2018, Malaysian police, along with authorities from many other countries, were on the lookout for Jho. They believed he was hiding somewhere in East Asia, but he had been apprehended.
If one thing is for certain, it’s that these money laundering allegations have shattered Jho Low’s good standing. Even if he somehow evades legal ramifications, he’ll never return to the quasi-celebrity status that he once enjoyed. That ship has sailed for this pirate.
As of October 2018, Jho was still on the lam. Some experts theorized he may have undergone plastic surgery to evade search parties. Is this disappearing act Jho’s greatest con yet, or is it just the last stand of a desperate man? Only time will tell.
The Straits Times