US jury begins deliberations in ex-Goldman banker's 1MDB corruption trial

A 2019 photo shows ex-Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng (centre) leaving court with his lawyer in New York. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A US jury began deliberations on Tuesday (April 5) in the trial of a former Goldman Sachs banker accused of helping loot billions of dollars from Malaysia's 1MDB sovereign wealth fund.

Prosecutors say Roger Ng, Goldman's former top investment banker for Malaysia, helped his former boss Tim Leissner embezzle money from 1MDB, launder the proceeds and bribe officials to win business for Goldman.

The Malaysian fund had been founded to pursue development projects in the Southeast Asian country.

Ng, 49, has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to launder money and violating an anti-corruption law.

His lawyers said Leissner, who pleaded guilty to similar charges in 2018 and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, falsely implicated Ng in the hope of receiving a lenient sentence.

The charges stemmed from one of the biggest financial scandals in history.

According to US prosecutors, Goldman helped 1MDB raise US$6.5 billion (S$8.8 billion) through three bond sales, but US$4.5 billion was diverted to government officials, bankers and their associates through bribes and kickbacks.

In a nearly two-month trial in Brooklyn federal court, jurors heard nine days of testimony from Leissner, who said he sent Ng US$35 million in kickbacks.

Leissner said the men agreed to tell banks a "cover story" that the money was from a legitimate business venture between their wives.

Ng's wife, Hwee Bin Lim, later testified for the defence that the business venture was, in fact, legitimate.

She said she invested US$6 million in the mid-2000s in a Chinese company owned by the family of Leissner's wife at the time, and the US$35 million was her return on that investment.

Ng's lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, emphasised to jurors in his Monday closing argument that Leissner could not be trusted.

Alixandra Smith, a prosecutor, said in her closing argument that other evidence backed up Leissner's testimony.

Ng will likely be the only person to face a US trial over 1MDB.

Goldman in 2020 paid a nearly US$3 billion fine and its Malaysian unit agreed to plead guilty.

The scheme's suspected mastermind, Malaysian financier Jho Low, was indicted alongside Ng in 2018 and remains at large.

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