NEW YORK — A former Goldman Sachs banker was found guilty on Friday of bribery and other corruption charges accusing him of participating in a $4.5 billion scheme to ransack the fund. Malaysian public investment known as 1MDB.
A jury returned the verdict in Roger Ng’s US trial in federal court in Brooklyn. Jurors had heard nearly two months of evidence relating to tens of millions of dollars in bribes and bribes allegedly orchestrated by fugitive Malaysian financier and socialite Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low.
Defense lawyer Marc Agnifilo told reporters outside court that he was surprised by the verdict because “the evidence was not reliable” and that he was considering an appeal. He also said the defense team was more disappointed than his client.
Ng “does better than his lawyers,” Agnifilo said. “He has great fortitude.”
The embezzlement funded lavish spending on jewelry, art, superyacht and luxury real estate. The loot has even helped fund wild parties and Hollywood movies, including Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street” which starred Leonardo DiCaprio.
“With today’s verdict, a powerful message has been sent to those who commit financial crimes motivated by greed,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement.
Ng faces up to 30 years in prison. No sentencing date has been set.
A former head of investment banking in Malaysia, Ng is the only Goldman banker to stand trial in the 1MDB scandal. The 49-year-old had pleaded not guilty to three counts – conspiracy to launder money and breaching two anti-corruption laws.
Prosecutors alleged that Ng and other Goldman Sachs bankers helped 1MDB raise $6.5 billion through bond sales – only to divert $4.5 billion to themselves and their co-workers. -conspirators through bribes and kickbacks.
“The harm done to the Malaysian people is immeasurable,” prosecutor Alixandra Smith said during closing arguments. “It’s deeply unfair to anyone playing by the rules.”
Ng’s defense attorneys described the looting of public investment fund 1MDB as “perhaps the biggest heist in the history of the world”. But they argue that US prosecutors have scapegoated Ng for crimes committed by others, including star government witness Tim Leissner.
“Roger is basically the scapegoat for all of this,” Agnifilo said in closing argument. “And Tim Leissner is looking to make the biggest deal of his life.”
Agnifilo accused Leissner, a senior Goldman banker, of falsely implicating Ng in a clemency bid in his own criminal case.
Leissner “never stopped lying, and he never stopped lying in that courtroom,” Agnifilo said.
For several days on the witness stand, Leissner testified that he, Ng, and Low used offshore accounts and shell companies to “hide the flow of funds.” The money laundering efforts also involved writing fake contracts with banks, he said.
“If we told any bank the truth, it wouldn’t work,” he said. “The house of cards would have fallen.”
He also described a dinner party in London around 2012 where Low informed him and Ng that they would be receiving bribes. Leissner said he knew it would be illegal but didn’t care because if the deal went through he would be “a hero” at Goldman Sachs.
Ng, he added, was “particularly happy that he was going to be paid some money” as he felt the company had underpaid him over the years.
The defense claimed that some of the $35 million received through Leissner — prosecutors said were illicit proceeds from the scheme — were actually the proceeds of a legitimate business transaction between the wives of the two men.
During cross-examination, Ng’s attorney sought to attack Leissner’s credibility by peppering him with questions about his history of lying about his marital status. He admitted to forging documents in 2014 to trick his now estranged wife, Kimora Lee Simmons, into thinking he was divorced into agreeing to marry him. Simmons is a model, reality television personality, and the ex-wife of rap mogul Russell Simmons.
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.
Low, who maintains his innocence, has become well known in the New York and Los Angeles club scenes. In 2012, he threw an opulent party for his 31st birthday with DiCaprio, Kim Kardashian and other celebrities in attendance – a party described by The Wall Street Journal as the “craziest (Las) Vegas party ever”.
Looting of the public investment fund led to the fall of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government in 2018. Najib was later found guilty by a Malaysian court of abuse of power and other scandal-related crimes and sentenced to 12 years from prison.