US jury begins deliberations at trial involving 1MBD scandal

Posted at 5:08 PM, April 5, 2022 and last updated 7:51 PM, July 14, 2023

By TOM HAYS Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — A jury began deliberations Tuesday at a U.S. trial stemming from an audacious scheme involving former Goldman Sachs bankers to ransack a Malaysian state investment fund known as 1MBD.

The jurors went to work after receiving lengthy instructions from U.S. District Judge Margo Brodie at a two-month trial in federal court in Brooklyn.

Prosecutors allege former banker Roger Ng helped loot 1MDB by raising $6.5 billion for the fund through bond sales, then diverting $4.5 billion of it to himself and corrupt associates through bribes and kickbacks.

“The harm to the people of Malaysia is immeasurable,” prosecutor Alixandra Smith said during closing arguments. “It is deeply unfair to everyone else who plays by the rules.”

Ng’s defense attorneys have described the fraud against the fund as “perhaps the single largest heist in the history of the world.” But they contend prosecutors scapegoated Ng for crimes committed by others, including the government’s cooperating witness, Tim Leissner.

“Roger is basically the fall guy for this whole thing,” attorney Marc Agnifilo said. “And Tim Leissner is looking to close the biggest deal of his life.”

A former head of investment banking in Malaysia, Ng is the only Goldman banker to stand trial in the sprawling 1MDB scandal. The 49-year-old has pleaded not guilty to three counts, including conspiring to launder money and violating an anti-bribery law.

During several days on the witness stand, Leissner testified that he, Ng and Low Taek Jho — the Malaysian financier and fugitive socialite known as Jho Low — used off-shore accounts and shell companies to “disguise the flow of funds.” The money laundering efforts also involved drawing up fake contracts with banks, he said.

“If we told any bank the truth, it wouldn’t work. … The house of cards would have fallen down,” he said.

Leissner, 52, pleaded guilty in 2018 to paying millions of dollars in bribes to government officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi. He was ordered to forfeit $43.7 million as part of his guilty plea and agreed to testify against Ng.

The embezzlement bankrolled lavish spending on jewels, art, a superyacht and luxury real estate. The spoils even helped finance Hollywood movies, including the 2013 Leonardo DiCaprio film “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Low, who maintains his innocence, became well known in the New York City and Los Angeles club scenes. In 2012, he threw a lavish 31st birthday bash attended by DiCaprio, Kim Kardashian and other celebrities — a fête described by The Wall Street Journal as the “wildest party (Las) Vegas ever saw.”