Wanted Malaysian financier Low still seeks immunity, report says

Hannah Rogers
November 2, 2018

Prosecutors in the United States have unveiled criminal charges against a Malaysian financier and two former Goldman Sachs bankers tied to the billion-dollar 1MDB sovereign wealth fund scandal.

Also unsealed yesterday in federal court in the Eastern District of NY was the guilty plea of Tim Leissner, the former South-east Asia Chairman and participating managing director of the Financial Institution, to a two-count criminal information charging Leissner with conspiring to launder money and conspiring to violate the FCPA by both paying bribes to various Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials and circumventing the internal accounting controls of the Financial Institution while he was employed by it.

Low, Ng, Leissner, and others also conspired to bribe government officials in Malaysia, including at 1MDB - a state-owned and controlled fund meant to fund economic development projects in the country - and Abu Dhabi to keep lucrative deals to themselves, federal prosecutors said.

1Malaysia Development Bhd., better known as 1MDB, is at the heart of a scandal which allegedly saw $4.5 billion misappropriated from the fund.

The 1MDB scandal refers to a money laundering and bribery scheme that pilfered billions of dollars from a Malaysian investment fund set up in 2009 by Najib to promote economic development in the country. The unidentified co-conspirator agreed with Mr. Leissner not to tell anyone in Goldman's compliance department about the bribes, according to court documents.

According to the justice department, Low, Ng, Leissner and other conspirators regularly bribed government officials in order to maintain Goldman's lucrative contracts with 1MDB. Prosecutors charge that Malaysian officials stole billions from the fund to buy property, art and other items including investments in movies such as The Wolf of Wall Street. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles have filed multiple civil lawsuits to recoup assets bought with some of that money. Prosecutors from the Justice Department's money-laundering and asset-recovery division also played an active role in the foreign bribery investigation.

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Since the election, Malaysian authorities have brought 38 charges against Najib.

Goldman provided an array of services to the fund, including helping it sell billions of dollars in bonds to investors, earning about US$600-million in fees for its work.

The DOJ said Ng and Leissner repeatedly circumvented Goldman's oversight tools for countering fraud, adding that the "business culture" at the firm, "particularly in Southeast Asia, was highly focused on consummating deals".

Goldman did not immediately have a comment Thursday.

Low, Ng and Leissner are the first individuals to be charged in the United States in relation to the scandal at 1MDB.

Mr. Leissner, who worked closely with the Malaysian fund, had been in plea talks with federal prosecutor for some time. It was not immediately clear if Ng had a lawyer. Both Leissner and Ng left the bank over a year ago.

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