Malaysian wanted by USA in 1MDB scandal says he's innocent

03 November, 2018, 04:14 | Author: Angel Logan
  • AFP pic

USA authorities have charged a fugitive Malaysian financier and two former Goldman Sachs bankers in a money laundering and bribery scheme that allegedly pilfered billions from Malaysian state investment fund 1MDB.

The US Department of Justice has said a total of US$4.5 billion (S$6.2 billion) was stolen from 1MDB through a complex web of transactions and fraudulent shell companies.

The criminal charges are the first to be filed in the U.S. over one of the biggest financial scandals.

Prosecutors in the United States and elsewhere believe that a group of people with close ties to former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak stole from the fund to buy paintings, yachts, real estate and even investment stakes in movies such as The Wolf of Wall Street.

Prosecutors alleged bribes and kickbacks were paid in connection with Goldman's bond offerings on 1MDB's behalf, which generated some US$600 million in fees for the bank. "The charges that were leveled, there were no indication or no accusation of benefiting, personally benefiting, from the decisions we have taken".

Putrajaya would like to get its hands on fugitive financier Low Taek Jho first, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today.

The BBC has contacted Goldman Sachs for comment.

According to the justice department, Low, Ng, Leissner and other conspirators regularly bribed government officials in order to maintain Goldman's lucrative contracts with 1MDB.

Goldman has, in the past, repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and said it is cooperating fully with the authorities.

While his lawyers fight to have the charges against him dismissed, Low's whereabouts are unknown.

Leissner, a former top Goldman banker in Asia who led Goldman Sachs' bond offerings for the fund, pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money and to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by paying bribes to Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials and circumventing Goldman's internal accounting controls, according to prosecutors. The authorities have examined what role, if any, the firm played in the 1MDB fraud, whether it knew about the alleged fraud and whether it should have done more to uncover the misappropriation of funds. It has previously denied any wrongdoing.

Mahathir has urged Low to return to Malaysia to sort out the legal issues. He will forfeit $43.7 million as a "result of his crimes", officials said. Goldman Sachs arranged bond offerings that helped the fund raise more than $6 billion, much of which, according to global authorities, was squirreled away in private accounts and used to buy yachts, paintings and high-end real estate.

Also charged was a former Goldman Sachs banker, Tim Leissner, who pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy and to conspiring to violate foreign bribery laws.

The money was supposed to support development projects, but prosecutors say the three men "conspired to launder" more than $2.7bn through the USA financial system, and used this money to pay bribes and "for the personal benefit of themselves and their relatives".

Mr Ng was a managing director at Goldman until his departure in May 2014. It was not known who was representing Mr. Ng.

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