NEW YORK (AP) — A federal jury in Brooklyn will hear opening statements Monday in the corruption trial of a former Goldman Sachs executive accused of looting a multimillion-dollar Malaysian state-owned hedge fund.
Roger Ng's own lawyers describe the $4.5bn loot from state-owned hedge fund 1MDB as "perhaps the biggest heist in world history". However, they say US prosecutors blamed the former banker for Goldman's "whole company" failures that made the colossal fraud possible.
In fact, his lawyers say, it was Ng who sounded the first alarm bells against Low Taek Jho, the Malaysian financier and fugitive named Jho Low, accused of being behind the massive money laundering and bribery scheme.
Federal prosecutors say the embezzlement financed lavish spending on jewelry, art, a superyacht and luxury homes. The loot even helped finance Hollywood movies, including Leonardo DiCaprio's 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street.
Ng, a former head of investment banking in Malaysia, is the only Goldman banker to stand trial in the 1MDB scandal. The case in federal court in Brooklyn is expected to last several weeks.
Ng, 49, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to launder money and violating an anti-corruption law. Federal prosecutors say he conspired with Low to launder stolen funds through the US financial system. They say he played a key role in a scheme in which laundered money was also used to bribe foreign officials.
Marc Agnifilo, an advocate for Ng, declined to comment. Agnifilo wrote in court documents that Ng "was in no way complicit in the staggering crimes committed by others." Ng's only role, he said, was to introduce Low to "much more dedicated" supervisors at Goldman.
"In perhaps the most amazing turn of events, it was Roger Ng who, way back in March 2010, specifically warned his superiors at Goldman that Low was a politically exposed person, that Low could not be trusted, and that Goldman should be careful." dealing with Baja,” the defense attorney wrote.
He has messaged Goldman Sachs for comment. A Goldman Sachs subsidiary has admitted that it "knowingly and intentionally" conspired to violate US anti-corruption laws and agreed to pay more than $2.9 billion. The sanctions included approximately $600 million in profits that Goldman made from the 1MDB scandal. That was on top of the $3.9 billion Goldman paid to Malaysia.
Maintaining his innocence, Low rose to fame on the New York City and Los Angeles club scenes. In 2012, he threw a lavish 31st birthday celebration attended by DiCaprio, Kim Kardashian and other celebrities, a celebration described by The Wall Street Journal as "the wildest party [Las] Vegas has ever seen."
The bond sale organized by Goldman Sachs for the 1MDB mutual fund provided an opportunity for the staff of Najib Razak, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, to steal and launder billions over a period of several years.
Najib founded 1MDB when he came to power in 2009, ostensibly to accelerate Malaysia's economic development. But the fund racked up billions of dollars in debt and ultimately brought down his government in 2018. In 2020, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison in Malaysia for abuse of power and other charges.
Another former Goldman banker, Tim Leissner, pleaded guilty in 2018 to paying millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to government officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi. He was ordered to forfeit $43.7 million as part of his guilty plea and is expected to testify against Ng.