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Closing arguments begin in ex-Goldman banker’s 1MDB corruption trial

CNA – Closing arguments began yesterday in the United States (US) trial of a former Goldman Sachs banker accused of helping loot hundreds of millions of dollars from Malaysia’s 1MDB development fund.

Prosecutors said Goldman’s former top investment banker for Malaysia Roger Ng helped his then-boss Tim Leissner embezzle money from the fund, launder the proceeds and bribe officials to win business for Goldman.

Ng, 49, has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to launder money and violate an anti-corruption law. His lawyer Marc Agnifilo acknowledged that he introduced Leissner to Jho Low – a Malaysian financier accused of being the scheme’s mastermind – but said Ng had no role in looting 1MDB. The charges stem from one of the biggest financial scandals in history.

US prosecutors said Goldman helped 1MDB raise USD6.5 billion through three bond sales, but that USD4.5 billion of those funds was diverted to government officials, bankers and their associates through bribes and kickbacks.

Ng is the first – and likely only – person to face trial in the US over the scheme.

Leissner, 52, pleaded guilty to similar charges in 2018 and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Goldman in 2020 paid a nearly USD3 billion fine and arranged for its Malaysian unit to plead guilty in US court. During the nearly two-month trial in Brooklyn federal court, jurors heard from more than two dozen witnesses. Leissner, the government’s star witness, testified in February that he sent Ng USD35 million in kickbacks from the scheme.

He said the two men agreed to tell the banks processing the transfers a “cover story” that the money was from a legitimate business venture between the two men’s wives.

Ng’s wife, Hwee Bin Lim, testified last week that she invested USD6 million in the mid-2000s in a Chinese company owned by the family of Leissner’s then-wife, Judy Chan. She said the USD35 million prosecutors characterise as Ng’s kickbacks were in fact her return on that investment.

Low, who was indicted in 2018 alongside Ng, remains at large.