Thursday, August 18, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Goldman banker convicted on federal bribery charges

Defense attorneys said Roger Ng was made to be the fall guy for a multibillion-dollar bribery scandal. The 12-person jury disagreed.

BROOKLYN (CN) — It took nearly 16 hours for a jury to convict a former Goldman Sachs banker for his involvement in one of the largest financial scandals of all time. 

Ng Chong Hwa, who goes by Roger, was the only banker to face trial over the multibillion-dollar scheme to rob the fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, otherwise known as 1MDB. Another banker pleaded guilty to his role, and the plan’s purported mastermind, Malaysian businessman and “playboy” Jho Low, remains on the lam. 

Prosecutors called out how the heist deprived Malaysia of funding for infrastructure like better roads and energy systems, pointing the finger at Ng. “He made choices that harmed an entire country,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Drew Rolle had said before the start of deliberations. “And folks, it’s time to hold him accountable.”

After eight weeks of trial, jurors has been trying to reach a verdict since Tuesday afternoon and did so midmorning on Friday. The 49-year-old Ng was found guilty of conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act on two counts, via bribery and circumventing accounting controls, as well as conspiring to launder money from the scheme. 

“I’m surprised,” said Marc Agnifilo, Ng’s attorney, following the verdict. “I hate to say it, I was.” 

Agnifilo, of the firm Brafman & Associates, hung his head in the courtroom after the first guilty verdict was read out. He had argued that his client was a scapegoat in the sweeping international scandal, which eventually cost Goldman Sachs billions in fines under a deferred prosecution agreement. The bank’s Malaysian subsidiary pleaded guilty to violating anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. 

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace called the scheme “obscene in its greed.” 

“The defendant and his cronies saw 1MDB not as an entity to do good for the people of Malaysia, but as a piggy bank to enrich themselves with piles of money siphoned from the fund,” Peace wrote in a statement following Friday’s verdict.

Agnifilo, in contrast, spoke highly of his client’s character. 

“He has great inner fortitude,” he said, “and always has.” 

Ng will remain out on the $250 million bond imposed before trial, with some adjustments to his curfew to be determined by pretrial services. He faces up to 30 years in prison for the charges. 

Trial began on February 14 in the Eastern District of New York, nearly three years after Ng, facing extradition, voluntarily came to the United States. 

“My heart frankly goes out to his daughter, whom he left when she was 6, and now she’s 9,” Agnifilo said. “This was a personal disaster in the life of that family.” 

Legal experts said the prosecution highlighted the role the United States seeks to play in monitoring international business practices. 

“It’s not easy in this global economic world to make people play by the rules,” said Laurie L. Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former prosecutor. “A case like this is designed to send a message to other multinational businesses that you are going to be held responsible under this law.”

Tim Leissner and wife Kimora Lee Simmons (AP)

The government’s star trial witness was Ng’s former boss and an ex-Goldman partner, Tim Leissner, who testified that that he pulled in $50 million to $60 million in kickbacks while Ng made $35 million off the deals. Leissner forfeited $43.7 million and shares now valued at around $200 million as part of his guilty plea

Leissner said he and Ng teamed up with Low, whose name hit headlines more than a decade ago in the United States thanks to lavish partying with celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Megan Fox. With his deep pockets, close government ties, and the help of the crooked investment bankers, Low is said to have arranged bribes and kickbacks to secure three bond deals between 1MDB and Goldman Sachs. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Some of the money stolen from 1MDB was ultimately used to fund the 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and to buy luxury real estate in Manhattan and Beverly Hills. The United States has also seized from Low paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet, a Marlon Brando Oscar, and a $250 million yacht. Supermodel Miranda Kerr surrendered $8 million in jewelry gifted to her by Low. The pair previously dated. 

During his two weeks on the stand, Leissner described a February 2012 meeting at Low’s London apartment where the plan was hatched to bribe government officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi to secure three bond deals that would earn millions for Goldman. Low charted out the plan by hand on a piece of paper, Leissner said, and promised the schemers kickbacks. 

When it came to accepting those payouts, Leissner testified that he and Ng got help from their respective wives. After the first deal closed in May 2012, Leissner received the dirty money, he testified, and directed his wife to wire it to an account that Ng’s wife, Hwee Bin Lim, had just opened up. 

That account received just three subsequent transfers, each from an account Leissner and his own wife operated, each of which prosecutors said can be traced back to 1MDB. Records presented by prosecutors showed that Lim then spent more than $300,000 on diamond jewelry and another $20,000 on a gold-plated hourglass.

Lim didn’t deny those purchases when she took the stand to give her own version of events, but said the source of the funds was completely unrelated to the bribery scheme. The money actually came from an investment she made years earlier with Leissner’s ex-wife, Judy Chan Leissner. After Chan Leissner found out her husband was having an affair, and that Lim knew about it, she wanted to give back Lim’s investment and end the business relationship, Lim testified. 

More than one of Leissner’s extramarital affairs came to light during his testimony. He was married to two women at the same time — on two separate occasions — and forged divorce documents to prove make them think he was single. Leissner also used a fake email address to impersonate his ex-wife, Judy Chan Leissner, and chat with his then-partner, model and designer Kimora Lee Simmons, about family vacation plans, he said in court. 

Former Goldman Sachs executive Roger Ng, center, leaves Brooklyn Federal court with attorney Marc Agnifilo, right, on May 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Closing arguments on both sides acknowledged that jurors had to decide whether to believe Ng’s wife or his former boss. 

Agnifilo attempted to squash any sense of credibility to Leissner’s story. He focused on Leissner’s “lifetime of lying,” including testimony that Leissner had been married to two women at the same time — on two separate occasions — and wrote a phony letter to a bank that ended Leissner’s tenure at Goldman. 

Prosecutors encouraged jurors to scrutinize Leissner’s testimony closely but noted that his words were backed up by emails, bank records and other evidence shown at trial. 

During the government's rebuttal, Rolle called Hwee Bin Lim’s story “incredible” and based, not on her memory, but on documents she reviewed before testifying, including conversations she wasn’t part of. 

“Folks, her entire testimony was the cover story,” Rolle said. “That was the point.”

Among several requests for evidence and scheduling questions, the jury sent a note during deliberations to Chief U.S. District Judge Margo K. Brodie in which they thanked her for providing them with comfortable chairs.

Brodie, in turn, had kind words for the jurors, who seemed to have taken time and care in reaching a verdict.

"I could not have been prouder of 12 members of our public," Brodie said. "I hope it was a good experience, and that you will encourage your family members and friends to show up when they're called for jury service."

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Loading
Loading...