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The global scandal of the looting of a major Malaysian infrastructure fund nearly a decade ago – a crime that tarnished the reputation of one of Wall Street’s top banks – is about to happen again once more in a federal courthouse in Brooklyn.
The money laundering and corruption trial of Roger Ng, a former Goldman Sachs banker, will begin on Monday, with opening arguments and federal prosecutors calling their first witnesses.
The lawsuit comes nearly four years after Mr. Ng, 49, a Malaysian resident, was charged by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn. And it comes 16 months after Goldman pleaded guilty to a criminal charge and paid $5 billion in fines for his role in the vast foreign corruption scheme.
Jho Low, the accused mastermind of the scheme to loot more than $4 billion from Malaysia’s major fund known as 1MDB, remains a fugitive and is believed to be alive in China. Tim Leissner, the former Goldman partner who pleaded guilty in the summer of 2018 and is cooperating with the government, is expected to be the prosecution’s star witness. He could start testifying as early as this week.
Mr. Ng and Mr. Leissner worked together at Goldman in Asia. Mr Ng reportedly introduced his former partner and others at the bank to Mr Low in 2009. At the time, Mr Low was a flamboyant young businessman who had befriended many Hollywood celebrities. He was known for throwing lavish parties in Las Vegas and buying expensive properties in Los Angeles and New York.
Prosecutors accused the three men and others of conspiring to pay $1 billion in bribes to senior officials in Malaysia and other countries so Goldman could arrange $6.5 billion dollars in bond issues for 1MDB, a government fund supposed to pay for projects to benefit the Malaysian people. But instead, prosecutors say, much of that money was siphoned off to pay bribes and line the pockets of Mr Low, Mr Leissner, Mr Ng and even the former Premier Malaysian minister.
Money looted from 1MDB was used to buy a boutique hotel in Beverly Hills, apartment buildings, artwork, a mega-yacht, a clear acrylic grand piano that was gifted to a model and part of the EMI Music Publishing portfolio. Some of the money even financed the Hollywood film “The Wolf of Wall Street”. Most purchases were made by Mr. Low.
Mr Leissner, who is married to fashion designer and model Kimora Lee Simmons, agreed to lose up to $43.7 million as part of his guilty plea. One of Goldman’s most powerful dealmakers in Asia before the scandal broke in 2016, Mr Leissner is expected to take the stand for several days once he begins giving evidence. Given his ties to Mr. Ng and Mr. Low, his testimony is considered crucial to the government’s case.
But Mr Leissner is likely to face fierce cross-examination from Mr Ng’s legal defense team. Lawyers could take advantage of a dossier Goldman had put together portraying Mr. Leissner as a master con man who had a doctorate from a mail-order diploma mill and had connections to powerful women in Asia, including a client of the office. The bank gathered the documents while negotiating its plea deal with prosecutors and banking regulators.
In court documents, prosecutors acknowledged that Mr. Leissner was deceptive and often misled some at Goldman about whether he was dealing with Mr. Low after he was told not to. . But authorities have criticized Goldman for accepting these denials at “face value”.
Prosecutors claimed that Mr. Ng and his family, including his wife, obtained up to $35 million in illicit proceeds through 1MDB bond issues. But Mr. Ng’s defense team intends to present evidence that Mr. Ng was not a key player in setting up the bond deals and that the money came from unrelated legitimate transactions , according to court filings.
His lawyers are expected to argue that Mr. Ng and his family owed money to Mr. Leissner’s ex-wife, who owns a large vineyard in China. Mr Ng, they will say, was unaware that the money they had received was from the proceeds that had been diverted from the 1MDB bond issue.
It is unclear whether Mr. Ng will testify on his own behalf.
Goldman Sachs should have lawyers oversee the proceedings. The bank’s Malaysian subsidiary pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the federal Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and the bank’s parent company reached a three-year deferred prosecution agreement. years for a similar charge. A number of Goldman employees, mostly from its compliance division, are expected to be called to testify.
In reaching a settlement with prosecutors and regulators, Goldman also took steps to recover or withhold more than $100 million in executive compensation, including for Lloyd Blankfein, the former chief executive.
The bank also slashed $10 million from the 2020 salary of David Solomon, who replaced Mr Blankfein as chief executive, following the guilty plea. But Goldman made up for most of that lost ground by recently approving $35 million in compensation for Mr. Solomon for 2021, about $8 million more than the $27.5 million he was supposed to have. obtained in 2021.