ROME—Ivana Smit was living a model’s life in Malaysia, complete with cameras, catwalks, and clubs. The 18-year-old Dutch-Belgian woman who grew up with her grandparents in Malaysia was discovered in 2014 when she won third place in the Malaysia Supermodel Search.
But her dream of stardom was cut tragically short on Dec. 7 when her nude body crashed through the awning of a sixth floor balcony in a high-rise apartment in the Dang Wangi neighborhood near the city center of Kuala Lumpur. She had fallen from a 20-story apartment owned by an American cryptocurrency trader and founder of Everus Technologies, Alexander Johnson, and his wife Luna Almaz from Kazakhstan.
Was her death a tragic accident? A suicide? Her father is convinced it was murder, but the police are not investigating it as such and the air of scandal around the case has been growing.
Carl Graham, a model and owner of the Rolls Models Academy in Kuala Lampur, claims in a Facebook post that the Johnsons were well-known in modeling circles for preying on young women like Ivana. “She was alone at the couple’s house... a couple many of us know and have heard many things about over the past with their sexual antics and drug induced issues.” Graham does not reach any conclusion, however, about the immediate cause of death. Johnson has not yet commented.
Johnson and Almaz had met Smit at a club on Dec. 6 and were seen on surveillance cameras taking her home to their apartment around 5 a.m. the next morning. Smit called her boyfriend a few hours later, sent him a seductive selfie and said she was going to sleep. Smit then plunged off their balcony around 10 a.m., and, despite the fact that her clothing and personal belongings were still in the couple’s apartment, the couple only raised the alarm at 3 p.m., five hours after she died. Neighbors later reported hearing loud voices in Johnson’s apartment in the morning hours, but no one called police. No one was in the sixth floor apartment where her body was found.
The couple were both charged with drug-related crimes based on blood tests and released on bail, according to local press reports. They told local police that Smit had come home with them but was sleeping “in the hallway” when they went to bed. They got up the next morning and took their child to school and went about their daily business. Smit was not there, they said. There is no report of whether their balcony door was open or if police conducted a thorough search of the apartment.
Smit’s parents flew to Malaysia after being told of their daughter’s “accidental death.” Her father Marcel Smit said that he saw bruises on his daughter’s neck, but police ignored his questions. He told a Dutch newspaper that he believe his daughter was murdered.
“The police do nothing with this information and want to close the case quickly,” he said. “The American says he slept the whole time. His wife had taken their 4-year-old daughter to school and then went back to sleep. They did not notice Ivana’s fall.”
“It’s very strange that the American couple did nothing from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.,” Smit told a second Dutch paper. “Ivana’s belongings were still in their apartment. The police tell me that the statements of the Americans are the same. Yes, of course: they had seven hours to coordinate them. My daughter can no longer contradict them.”
Smit’s father says he believes Johnson is using his wealth to influence local authorities not to investigate him or his wife for murder. The Smit family has started a Go Fund Me campaign to try to investigate their daughter’s mysterious death and have brought her home for a complete autopsy. They have hired renowned criminal lawyer Sébas Diekstra to investigate the case.
“Ivana’s cause of death remains unknown, and a thorough investigation appears to be lacking in the incident,” Diekstra wrote in a letter of complaint to Malaysian authorities. “The family has been living a nightmare.”
Graham says many young models supplement their earnings as VIP guests who get paid to party. He suggests that Smit had met Johnson and his wife and agreed to go home with them. “The model industry is not a safe place to be partying every night, drug ridden, alcohol driven, sordid ‘events’ asking for models to attend just so VIP’s can try and get them drunk, drugged and have their ways with them,” Graham wrote. “This is serious and must be looked at in depth.”
He says he urges young models to be careful. “You can say no,” he writes. “It doesn’t matter how much money they pay. Do not accept jobs that will affect your life and cause you harm.”
Johnson and his wife will be in court on Jan. 8 to enter a plea for their drug charges. Smit’s family is hoping that by then they will also be charged with Ivana’s murder.
—with additional reporting by Nadette de Visser and Brendon Hong