Ex-Goldman banker Tim Leissner ordered to forfeit US$43.7m over 1MDB bribery fraud

Former Goldman banker Tim Leissner leaded guilty in August 2018 and was the US government’s star witness against former colleague Roger Ng. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK – Former Goldman Sachs banker Tim Leissner, who pleaded guilty to participating in the massive 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) foreign bribery fraud, was ordered to forfeit US$43.7 million (S$58.7 million) in cash as well as all 3.3 million shares in fitness drink company Celsius Holdings.

US District Judge Margo Brodie on Friday ordered Leissner to surrender the assets as part of his earlier guilty plea to foreign bribery and money laundering charges related to the 1MDB scandal. Leissner has been free on US$20 million bail since his arrest in June 2018. He pleaded guilty in August 2018 and was the government’s star witness against former Goldman colleague Roger Ng. 

The forfeiture order comes the same day that the government recommended a term of at least 15 years in prison for Ng. Ahead of the full recommendation, United States prosecutors on Friday asked Judge Brodie to order Ng to forfeit US$35.1 million.

Mr Henry Mazurek, a lawyer for Leissner, declined to comment on the judge’s order regarding his client. Mr Marc Agnifilo, a lawyer for Ng, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

US prosecutors said that both Leissner, Goldman’s former South-east Asia head, and Ng conspired with financier Jho Low, the alleged mastermind of the sprawling fraud scheme, to bribe officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi to facilitate bond deals. Ng, 51, the only Goldman employee to go to trial over the multibillion-dollar looting, was convicted by a federal jury in April of three felony counts, including conspiring to violate US anti-bribery laws and conspiring to launder money. 

Ng is scheduled to be sentenced on March 9.  

Ownership of the Celsius shares remains in dispute. Ng sued Leissner in a New York state court in November, alleging his former boss cheated him out of an investment worth at least US$130 million. Ng alleged that Leissner took his original US$1.25 million Celsius investment, which has since grown in value enormously. That case is still pending.

Judge Brodie said in her Friday order that the Celsius shares were being held at a JPMorgan Chase account in the name of Leissner’s former wife, Ms Kimora Lee Simmons. The judge said anyone who asserts a legal interest in the Celsius shares may file a petition with the court. 

Low stole US$1.42 billion from three bond transactions that Goldman arranged for 1MDB, said a forensic accountant with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who testified at Ng’s trial. US prosecutors said evidence showed Ng collected US$35.1 million in the fraud, while Leissner received US$73.4 million. Low remains a fugitive.

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak reaped US$756 million of the US$6.5 billion raised in the bond offerings, while his stepson, Mr Riza Aziz, pocketed US$238 million, US prosecutors said. Mr Riza used at least US$60 million of his 1MDB money to produce Hollywood movie The Wolf Of Wall Street, according to prosecutors. 

Leissner testified at the trial that as part of his guilty plea, he had agreed to surrender a stake in Celsius he estimated was now worth about US$200 million and had previously posted 3.25 million shares in Celsius as collateral to secure his bond. 

During his time on the witness stand, he admitted to faking divorce documents, creating phony e-mail accounts, marrying multiple women at the same time and keeping money that was not his. BLOOMBERG

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