NEW YORK • Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho and former Goldman Sachs bankers Tim Leissner and Roger Ng Chong Hwa were indicted on charges of conspiracy to launder billions of dollars in illegal proceeds from Malaysia's 1MDB wealth fund, US federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said yesterday.
Low, the alleged mastermind of a scheme to siphon billions of dollars from the fund, was charged in absentia. He is accused of conspiring with Ng to launder billions of dollars embezzled from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Leissner, a former top Goldman banker in Asia who led Goldman Sachs' bond offerings for the fund, pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money and to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by paying bribes to Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials and circumventing Goldman's internal accounting controls, according to prosecutors. He has been ordered to forfeit US$43.7 million (S$60.2 million).
Low, Ng and Leissner are the first individuals to be charged in the United States in relation to the scandal at 1MDB.
Goldman Sachs arranged bond offerings that helped the fund raise over US$6 billion, much of which, according to the international authorities, was squirrelled away in private accounts and used to buy yachts, paintings and high-end real estate.
Prosecutors alleged bribes and kickbacks were paid in connection with Goldman's bond offerings on 1MDB's behalf, which generated some US$600 million in fees for the bank. Such payments were "known to Ng, Leissner and other employees" of the bank, according to prosecutors.
Low, known as Jho Low, remains at large, prosecutors said in a statement. Ng was arrested earlier yesterday in Malaysia, pursuant to a provisional arrest warrant issued at the request of the US, they said.
Goldman has, in the past, repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and said it is cooperating fully with the authorities.
An estimated US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, the US Justice Department has alleged. While US prosecutors have previously filed civil asset forfeiture suits for assets allegedly bought with some of the stolen funds, these are the first criminal charges the Justice Department has brought against individuals in the case.
Low, who is also wanted in Malaysia and Singapore, contacted the top adviser to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad last week to seek immunity, a report said.
"He did not call me, but he called an officer of mine last week," Tun Daim Zainuddin, who chairs the country's Council of Eminent Persons, was quoted by broadcaster Astro Awani as saying in an interview on Wednesday. He said Low requested many things, including a meeting with him and Tun Dr Mahathir, and had attempted to contact him several times before.
Mr Daim said that on one occasion, he demanded that Low return to Malaysia and provide names involved in the 1MDB corruption scandal. "He kept quiet. I said, 'You cannot deliver, so why should I talk to you?' " Mr Daim said.
Meanwhile, a US court has allowed the sale of a private jet allegedly bought by Low with money taken from 1MDB, court filings show. Earlier this week, Malaysia put up for auction the Equanimity, a US$250 million luxury yacht, also allegedly bought by Low with 1MDB funds.
BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK