A former Goldman Sachs banker has been convicted of bribery and other corruption charges accusing him of participating in a 4.5 billion dollar (£3.4 billion) scheme to ransack the Malaysian state investment fund known as 1MDB.
A jury reached the verdict at the US trial of Roger Ng in federal court in Brooklyn.
Jurors heard nearly two months of evidence about 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.
The embezzlement bankrolled lavish spending on jewels, art, a superyacht and luxury property. The spoils even helped finance wild parties and Hollywood movies, including 2013 Martin Scorsese film The Wolf Of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
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 — conspiring to launder money and violating two anti-bribery laws.
Prosecutors alleged that he and other Goldman Sachs bankers helped 1MDB raise 6.5 billion dollars (£5 billion) through bond sales — only to divert 4.5 billion dollars to themselves and their co-conspirators through bribes and kickbacks.
“The harm to the people of Malaysia is immeasurable,” prosecutor Alixandra Smith said during closing arguments. “It is deeply unfair to everyone else who plays by the rules.”
Roger is basically the fall guy for this whole thing. And Tim Leissner is looking to close the biggest deal of his lifeMarc Agnifilo
Ng’s defence lawyers described the looting of 1MDB state investment fund as “perhaps the single largest heist in the history of the world”, but they contend that US prosecutors scapegoated Ng for crimes committed by others, including the government’s star witness, Tim Leissner.
“Roger is basically the fall guy for this whole thing,” lawyer Marc Agnifilo said. “And Tim Leissner is looking to close the biggest deal of his life.”
Mr Agnifilo accused Leissner, a higher-ranking Goldman banker, of falsely implicating Ng in a bid for leniency in his own criminal case.
Leissner “never stopped lying, ever, and he didn’t stop lying in this courtroom”, Mr Agnifilo said.
During several days of evidence, Leissner said he, Ng and Low used offshore accounts and shell companies to “disguise the flow of funds”. The money laundering efforts also involved drawing up fake contracts with banks, he said.
“If we told any bank the truth, it wouldn’t work,” he said. “The house of cards would have fallen down.”
He also described a dinner in London around 2012 where Low informed him and Ng they would be receiving kickbacks. Leissner said he knew that would be illegal, but did not care because if the deal went through he would be “a hero” at Goldman Sachs.
Ng, he added, was “particularly glad he was going to be paid some money” because he felt the firm had undercompensated him over the years.
The defence claimed that some of the 35 million dollars (£26 million) Ng received through Leissner — money prosecutors said was illicitly gained from the scheme — was actually the proceeds of a legitimate business transaction between the two men’s wives.
On cross-examination, Ng’s lawyer sought to attack Leissner’s credibility by peppering him with questions about his history of lying about his marital status.
Leissner admitted he forged documents in 2014 to dupe 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 of dollars in bribes to government officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi. He was ordered to forfeit 43.7 million dollars as part of his guilty plea and agreed to testify against Ng.
Low, who maintains his innocence, became well known in the New York City and Los Angeles club scenes.
In 2012, he threw an opulent 31st birthday bash attended by DiCaprio, Kim Kardashian and other celebrities — a fete described by the Wall Street Journal as the “wildest party (Las) Vegas ever saw”.