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Malaysia in transition

US charges financier Jho Low and ex-Goldman bankers in 1MDB probe

Alleged mastermind maintains innocence while also remaining in hiding

Goldman Sachs pocketed about $600 million in fees for its work with 1MDB, the U.S. Department of Justice said.   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- Federal authorities on Thursday unsealed criminal charges and a guilty plea involving two former Goldman Sachs bankers and Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, all linked to the money laundering and embezzlement scandal of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund.

The three-count indictment charges Low, popularly known as Jho Low, and ex-Goldman banker Ng Chong Hwa with conspiring to "launder billions of dollars embezzled" from 1MDB and violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act "by paying bribes to various Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials," the Department of Justice said in a news release. Ng, also known as Roger Ng, was arrested Thursday in Malaysia at American authorities' request, it said.

Tim Leissner, a former Southeast Asia chairman for Goldman, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit money laundering and conspiring to violate the FCPA by bribing Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials. Leissner has been ordered to forfeit $43.7 million, according to the news release.

Responding to the indictment, a Low spokesperson posted a statement dated Nov. 1 on Low's website, reiterating his innocence. "[T]he bond offerings detailed in the indictment were undertaken openly and lawfully between experienced, well-regulated financial institutions and government entities," it said.

The Malaysian government is investigating Low's whereabouts, and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has suggested that he may be hiding in China.

The Justice Department said that "billions of dollars were misappropriated and fraudulently diverted from 1MDB," with the trio conspiring to launder them through the American financial system by purchasing luxury residential real estate and artwork and funding major Hollywood films.

"Holding Account #2 is owned and controlled by U.S. Motion Picture Company #1, a U.S. legal entity owned in part by Co-Conspirator #3 whose funds, among other things, were used to assist in the production of the film 'The Wolf of Wall Street,'" the indictment said.

Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, is thought to be in China.   © Getty Images

The department did not identify Goldman by name, calling it "Financial Institution" in the news release and "U.S. Financial Institution #1" in the unsealed court documents.

"As a result of its work for 1MDB during that time, the Financial Institution allegedly received approximately $600 million in fees and revenues along with increased reputational prestige," the news release said.

"In total ... more than $2.7 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB and Low, Ng, Leissner and others conspired to launder this money through the U.S. financial system to pay bribes to foreign officials and for the personal benefit of themselves and their relatives," the Justice Department said.

A Goldman spokesperson told the Nikkei Asian Review that the firm "continues to cooperate with all authorities investigating this matter."

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