US judge sets ex-Goldman banker's 1MDB corruption trial for February

The authorities said Goldman bankers paid more than US$1.6 billion (S$2.2 billion) in bribes for 1MDB business. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A United States judge has said a former Goldman Sachs banker charged in the 1MDB Malaysian sovereign wealth fund scandal will be tried in early February, expressing confidence the Omicron variant will not upend the trial.

Chief Judge Margo Brodie of the federal court in Brooklyn on Friday (Jan 7) delayed jury selection for Roger Ng by three weeks to Feb 7, with a trial beginning the following week.

Jury selection had been set for Jan 18.

Ng, the former head of investment banking for Goldman Sachs Malaysia, has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to violate an anti-bribery law and launder money.

His former employer agreed in October 2020 to pay US$2.9 billion (S$3.9 billion) and have a Malaysian unit admit criminal wrongdoing to settle probes by the US Department of Justice and others into the alleged looting of billions of dollars from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Prosecutors sought to delay Ng's trial until late February, saying Omicron could cause disruptions and prevent travel by government witnesses from Hong Kong, Singapore and Britain.

But the judge said trials are taking place in Brooklyn, and a short delay should suffice based on expectations of the court's epidemiologist.

"It will be a little easier for us to get a decent jury pool because, according to the epidemiologist, the virus will peak in January; then I think we'll be on the down end of it," Chief Judge Brodie said.

Lawyers for Ng had opposed delaying the trial, saying he was ready to proceed after spending more than three years away from his family since his November 2018 arrest in Malaysia.

Ng was extradited six months later.

"He has spent every one of the last 1,000 days getting ready for this trial, and that's what he's going to do until this trial is over," Ng's lawyer, Mr Marc Agnifilo, told the judge, before accepting the three-week delay.

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak launched 1MDB to promote economic development. Goldman helped to sell US$6.5 billion of bonds for the state fund, and the authorities said its bankers paid more than US$1.6 billion in bribes for 1MDB business.

Separately, a Malaysian court in December upheld former premier Najib's conviction on corruption charges linked to a multibillion-dollar scandal at 1MDB.

Najib was appealing a 12-year prison sentence and a RM210 million (S$67.7 million) fine imposed by the Kuala Lumpur High Court last year for criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering involving 1MDB former unit SRC International, one of five trials he is facing over corruption allegations.

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