Ex-Goldman banker pleads not guilty in 1MDB case

Former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng leaving US District Court in New York on Monday. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of helping Malaysia's former prime minister and other individuals embezzle at least $3.7 million from state fund 1Malaysia Deve
Former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng leaving US District Court in New York on Monday. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of helping Malaysia's former prime minister and other individuals embezzle at least $3.7 million from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • A former Goldman Sachs banker charged last year in connection with the looting of billions of dollars from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund pleaded not guilty in Brooklyn federal court on Monday, just hours after being flown back to the United States.

The banker, Roger Ng, had been in custody in Malaysia since he was charged with helping the country's former prime minister and others embezzle at least US$2.7 billion (S$3.7 billion) from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The judge overseeing Ng's bail hearing, Ms Peggy Kuo of US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, said both sides were engaged in plea talks.

Mr Marc Agnifilo, Ng's lawyer, disputed that characterisation after the hearing, although he left open the possibility of an agreement with prosecutors. "Roger has pleaded not guilty and will at least consider all options available to every defendant at the inception of a case," Mr Agnifilo said.

Ng, 46, is one of two former Goldman bankers to have been charged by federal prosecutors.

In August last year, Ng's former boss, Tim Leissner, pleaded guilty to money laundering and foreign bribery charges.

Leissner is out on bail while he waits to be sentenced.

Ng was released on US$20 million bail and ordered to remain in home detention. His next court date is May 23.

The charges against both men relate to an alleged scheme by Malaysia's former officials to plunder 1MDB, which used Goldman's investment banking services to issue US$6 billion in bonds that were meant to finance infrastructure projects in the country.

Prosecutors said that former prime minister Najib Razak, his family, and financier Jho Low spent a large portion of the money on jewels, jets and artworks.

The authorities say Leissner and Ng paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to help win the bond underwriting work, which generated US$600 million in fees for Goldman.

The deals also earned big bonuses for Leissner and Ng and enhanced their reputations at Goldman.

The case has led to a serious criminal investigation into Goldman, which has said it could face a substantial fine in the US.

Malaysian officials also want Goldman to pay up to US$7.5 billion in damages.

"We continue to cooperate with all relevant authorities as the process continues to move forward," said Goldman spokesman Michael DuVally.

Ng still faces charges in Malaysia.

US Justice Department lawyers and their Malaysian counterparts agreed to bring Ng to the US after he said he would not contest an extradition, but the authorities in Malaysia called his return to the US a "temporary surrender".

Malaysia's Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said Ng would be brought back to face charges once US prosecutors have completed their case.

The 1MDB scandal reached halfway around the globe and into the highest echelons of power in Malaysia. It led to Najib's downfall when he lost his re-election bid last May and was arrested by the Malaysian authorities in July.

The scandal also touched Hollywood: Some of the missing money helped pay for Hollywood blockbuster The Wolf Of Wall Street, prosecutors said.

Low, who has been accused of using some of the money to lavish gifts on celebrities, has also been indicted in the US. He remains at large.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2019, with the headline 'Ex-Goldman banker pleads not guilty in 1MDB case'. Print Edition | Subscribe