Ex-Goldman Sachs banker convicted of conspiracy to loot 1MDB fund

NEW YORK — A former Goldman Sachs banker was convicted on Friday on bribery and other corruption charges, accusing him of participating in a $4.5 billion scheme to loot Malaysia’s state-owned investment fund called 1MDB.

A jury has reached its verdict in the US trial of Roger Ng in federal court in Brooklyn. The jury had spent nearly two months hearing evidence of tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks allegedly orchestrated by Malaysian financier and fugitive socialite Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low.

Defense attorney Marc Agnifilo told reporters in court that he was surprised by the verdict because “the evidence was not reliable” and that he was considering an appeal. He also said the defense team was more disappointed than his client.

Ng “is doing better than his lawyers,” Agnifilo said. “He has great steadfastness.”

The embezzlement funded lavish spending on jewels, art, a superyacht and luxury real estate. The loot even helped fund wild parties and Hollywood movies, including the 2013 Martin Scorsese film The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

“Today’s ruling sent a strong message to those who commit financial crimes motivated by greed,” US Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement.

Ng faces up to 30 years in prison. No sentencing date has been set.

A former head of investment banking in Malaysia, Ng is the only Goldman banker to stand trial in the 1MDB scandal. The 49-year-old had pleaded not guilty to three counts – conspiracy to launder money and violating two anti-corruption laws.

Prosecutors claimed Ng and other Goldman Sachs bankers helped 1MDB raise $6.5 billion through the sale of bonds – only to divert $4.5 billion of that through bribes and kickbacks to themselves and their co-conspirators.

“The damage to the people of Malaysia is immeasurable,” prosecutor Alixandra Smith said during closing arguments. “It’s deeply unfair to everyone else who’s playing by the rules.”

Ng’s defenders have called the looting of state investment fund 1MDB “perhaps the largest single heist in the history of the world”. But they claim US prosecutors have held Ng responsible for crimes committed by others, including government key witness Tim Leissner.

“Roger’s basically the fall guy for this whole thing,” Agnifilo said in his closing argument. “And Tim Leissner wants to make the biggest deal of his life.”

Agnifilo accused Leissner of falsely implicating a senior Goldman banker, Ng, in a plea for leniency in his own criminal case.

Leissner “never stopped lying, and he didn’t stop lying in this courtroom,” Agnifilo said.

During several days on the witness stand, Leissner testified that he, Ng and Low used offshore accounts and shell companies to “obscure the flow of money.” Money-laundering efforts also included forged contracts with banks, he said.

“If we told any bank the truth, it wouldn’t work,” he said. “The house of cards would have collapsed.”

He also described a dinner in London around 2012 where Low told him and Ng that they were being bribed. Leissner said he knew it was illegal but didn’t care because if the deal goes through, he would be “a hero” at Goldman Sachs.

Ng, he added, was “particularly glad he would get some money” because he felt the company had underpaid him over the years.

The defense claimed that part of the $35 million Ng Leissner received — money prosecutors said it was illegal earnings from the program — was actually earnings from a legitimate business transaction between the two men’s wives.

Under cross-examination, Ng’s attorney attempted to attack Leissner’s credibility by peppering him with questions about his history of lying about his marital status. He admitted he forged documents in 2014 to deceive his now estranged wife Kimora Lee Simmons into believing he was divorced so she would agree to marry him. Simmons is a model, reality TV personality, and ex-wife of rap mogul Russell Simmons.

Leissner, 52, pleaded guilty in 2018 to paying millions in bribes to government officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi. He was ordered to forfeit $43.7 million as part of his guilty plea and agreed to testify against Ng.

Low, who maintains his innocence, rose to prominence in the New York City and Los Angeles club scenes. In 2012, he threw a lavish 31st birthday celebration attended by DiCaprio, Kim Kardashian and other celebrities — a celebration described by The Wall Street Journal as “the wildest party (Las) Vegas has ever seen.”

The looting of the state investment fund led to the fall of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government in 2018. Najib was later sentenced to 12 years in prison by a Malaysian court for abuse of power and other crimes related to the scandal.

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