BROOKLYN (CN) — The government on Thursday afternoon rested its case against a former Goldman Sachs banker embroiled in one of the largest-ever financial scandals, an international scheme that resulted in billions of dollars being siphoned off from a sovereign fund in Malaysia.
Ng Chong Hwa, who goes by Roger, is charged with conspiring to bribe officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi over the course of three bond deals between Goldman and the fund called 1 Malaysia Development Berhad. Prosecutors say the 49-year-old Ng took home $35 million in kickbacks from the transactions, earning the investment bank $700 million in just six months.
His trial has been a sweeping one, with the government calling more than 20 witnesses over six weeks and showing the jury flow charts of how money moved out of 1MDB and into the pockets of bankers, businessmen and foreign officials.
Brooklyn federal prosecutors presented hundreds of emails linking Ng to 1MDB officers and Jho Low, a Malaysian financier who is charged in the scheme but remains at large. Low, who is also known as Low Taek Jho, reportedly masterminded the scheme using his close government ties.
Records entered into evidence by the government indicate that it was Ng who first introduced the man to Goldman in 2009 as a private wealth client. Former employees of Goldman's compliance and anti-money laundering teams testified about their wariness of Low, saying his vetting process took longer and raised more red flags than usual, ending with Low’s rejections. Issues included Low’s undisclosed investments; his lavish spending and partying with celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan; and his production of sketchy, unverified reference letters that lacked letterhead and appeared to have been drafted by the same person.
Ng’s defense attorneys pointed out meanwhile that Ng also gave Goldman a heads up about working with Low.
“Roger Ng advised caution in accepting the claims at face value,” one internal red-flag report shown in court states. “He did not find the individual client’s claims to be credible.”
By far, the witness longest on the stand was Ng’s boss, Tim Leissner, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to money laundering and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He testified over 10 days including cross-examination.
Ng, as former head of Goldman’s business in Malaysia, and Leissner, in charge of all of South East Asia, worked closely to obtain and carry out the illicit business, Leissner said in court.
“We were best friends,” he explained. “There wasn’t a day that we didn’t talk.”
Leissner said Low was running the fund behind the scenes as a close associate of then-Prime Minister Najib Razak since the bank had balked at getting involved with Low, and that they in turn lied to Goldman’s compliance teams repeatedly about Low’s involvement in the 1MDB deals. Najib, who served from 2009 to 2018, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on corruption and money laundering charges. He is out on bail and faces four additional trials related to 1MDB.
According to Leissner and records from the meetings, several other investment bankers were in on Low’s involvement and even attended 1MDB-related meetings with him. Goldman Sachs has paid nearly $3 billion as part of a deferred prosecution agreement related to the 1MDB scandal, with Goldman Sachs Malaysia pleading guilty to violating anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Two days before Leissner’s June 2018 arrest, he sent an email to a business associate, Ng’s then-employer, declaring a news story saying Ng and Low would be arrested was unfair to Ng.
“I think Roger is being caught in a bad crossfire here,” Leissner wrote.