Malaysia 1MDB scandal: Former PM arrested

Malaysia's former Prime MInister Najib Razak was arrested in connection to a long-running corruption scandal. The Wall Street Journal's Ken Brown, who first covered this story in 2015, explains what led up to the arrest.

Posted: Nov 2, 2018 8:53 AM
Updated: Nov 2, 2018 9:05 AM

The Justice Department has announced multiple charges against two ex-Goldman Sachs bankers linked to Malaysia's state investment fund scandal.

The agency said Thursday that Tim Leissner, former Southeast Asia chairman, conspired to launder money and violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by paying bribes to government officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi.

Leissner has pleaded guilty and will forfeit $43.7 million.

The Justice Department also unsealed an indictment against Roger Ng, a former Goldman Sachs banker, and Malaysian financier Jho Low, who allegedly played a central role in the scheme to launder billions of dollars from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund.

The US government says Ng and Low also paid bribes to foreign officials.

Additionally, Ng and Leissner allegedly worked to circumvent internal accounting controls at Goldman, which underwrote more than $6 billion in bonds issued by 1MDB in 2012 and 2013. The bank made about $600 million in fees and revenue for its work with the fund, according to the indictment.

Ng was arrested earlier Thursday in Malaysia, according to the Justice Department. Low remains at large.

The news was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Another Goldman banker, Andrea Vella, has been placed on leave, pending a review of alleged conduct related to the 1MDB case, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

That move was initially reported by Bloomberg. Bloomberg previously reported that Vella was demoted from co-head of investment banking in Asia to a client-facing role last month.

A spokesperson for Goldman Sachs (GS) said in a statement that the firm continues to cooperate with all authorities investigating the matter.

A spokesperson for Low said that Low maintains his innocence, and "simply asks that the public keep an open mind regarding this case."

Low held no formal position at 1MDB and was not employed by Goldman Sachs, or the governments of Malaysia or Abu Dhabi, the spokesperson added. Representatives for Leissner and Ng could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Justice Department has previously filed civil asset forfeiture suits to reclaim goods they said were bought with money stolen from the 1MDB fund. Federal officials have claimed that laundered funds were pumped into New York condos, hotels, yachts and a jet, and used to fund Hollywood films such as "The Wolf of Wall Street."

The agency alleges that $4.5 billion from 1MDB was misappropriated by high-level officials at the fund.

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