Defence lawyer attacks ex-Goldman banker's 1MDB bribery testimony

Mr Marc Agnifilo (right) began his cross-examination of Leissner by questioning him about the lies he told in his private life. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Former Goldman Sachs Group banker Tim Leissner's dramatic account of two 2012 London meetings at which 1MDB bribes were discussed came under attack from the defence lawyer for his alleged co-conspirator, Roger Ng.

Testifying for the prosecution earlier in Ng's trial, Leissner had described how, during the first of the meetings, financier Jho Low drew a chart of Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials who would be bribed as part of a scheme to siphon billions of dollars from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.

But Ng's lawyer, Mr Marc Agnifilo, pointed out during his cross-examination of Leissner on Wednesday (March 2) that the former banker didn't mention such a chart when he initially spoke to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2018.

Mr Agnifilo suggested that Leissner first mentioned it to FBI agents only last year.

"I don't remember when I first brought up the chart," Leissner responded. "The chart existed. When I brought it up, I don't know."

Leissner, who pleaded guilty in 2018, is the government's star witness against Ng, his onetime subordinate and the only Goldman banker to go on trial over the 1MDB scandal.

Ng contends his ex-boss's testimony is motivated by his desire to receive a reduced sentence, and Mr Agnifilo has used defence questioning to try to hammer away at Leissner's credibility with the jury in Brooklyn federal court.

Mr Agnifilo on Wednesday also raised questions about another London meeting in which the former banker testified that he and Ng discussed getting multimillion-dollar kickbacks from Low.

Mr Agnifilo asked Leissner about travel records showing that he flew to Hong Kong the same night.

"How do you go for dinner, go for a walk back to your hotel and then take an international flight at 8.45 pm?," the defence lawyer asked.

"The events were as I described them," Leissner said.

Leissner had also previously testified about a 2012 meeting in Abu Dhabi where he said he hand-delivered a letter from former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, the chairman of Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth fund, International Petroleum Investment Co, and deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.

Attorney Marc Agnifilo (left) and ex-Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng arrive at federal court in New York on Feb 8, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

According to Leissner, Low included Sheikh Mansour in his chart of officials to bribe, saying "the sheikh would not get out of bed for less than US$100 million (S$136 million)."

But under questioning by Mr Agnifilo, Leissner couldn't recall details about what Sheikh Mansour's home looked like or who was present when he delivered the letter.

"This is the first time you've ever been given a letter to give from one world leader to give to a second world leader and you don't remember?" the defence lawyer asked.

Mr Agnifilo began his cross-examination of Leissner on Tuesday by questioning him about the lies he told in his private life, particularly to his former wives and mistresses.

Before the jury arrived Wednesday morning, he prosecution complained to the judge that that line of questioning was "harassing" their witness.

"He has not denied having affairs and he will not deny having affairs, but the defence should be precluded from asking questions that go to the sordid details of his affairs," Assistant US Attorney Drew Rolle said to District Judge Margo Brodie before the jury arrived.

"He is harassing the witness," the prosecutor said of Mr Agnifilo.

Mr Agnifilo responded that questioning Leissner about his love life was fair game because it went to Leissner's credibility.

He noted the former banker acknowledged he'd bought a luxury sports car and multiple houses, including a US$10 million London home, for a former mistress who was at the time the chief executive officer of Astro Malaysia Holdings, a Goldman client.

Leissner has said she blackmailed him into the purchase.

"It's not so much he was having an affair but everything he does is all a lie," Mr Agnifilo said.

"He lies to both people at the same time and he lies to get what he wants. So far, he's minimised the lying.

All we've done is bring out the lies. This is not about lying, this is about credibility."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.