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.”
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.