USA charges financier, former Goldman bankers for 1MDB

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U.S. officials unveiled criminal charges on Thursday against two former Goldman Sachs bankers over the scandal-plagued Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, raising fresh questions about corporate culture at the prestigious investment bank.

The US Department of Justice has said a total of US$4.5 billion (S$6.2 billion) was stolen from 1MDB through a complex web of transactions and fraudulent shell companies.

These are the first criminal charges brought in the case, and the indictment accuses the men of laundering dirty money through the US financial system by purchasing luxury New York City real estate, artwork from an unnamed New York-based auction houses, and by funding unspecified major Hollywood productions.

About $4bn disappeared from the fund and the claims of corruption led to Malaysia's former prime minister, Najib Razak, being charged with corruption, charges he has denied.

The Justice Department announced charges Thursday against a fugitive Malaysian financier and two former Goldman Sachs bankers accused in a money laundering and bribery scheme that pilfered billions of dollars from a... "The charges that were leveled, there were no indication or no accusation of benefiting, personally benefiting, from the decisions we have taken". Another bank official, Ng Chong Hwa, 51, also known as Roger Ng, was arrested earlier on Thursday in Malaysia, prosecutors said.

Mr Low, who was charged earlier in Malaysia, has repeatedly declared his innocence.

The Telegraph has contacted lawyers for Mr Low, who has been at large since July, and Mr Leissner but has not yet received a response.

A three-count indictment charges Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, with misappropriating money from the state-owned fund and using it for bribes and kickbacks to foreign officials, to pay for luxury real estate, art and jewelry in the United States and to help finance Hollywood movies, including "The Wolf of Wall Street". Both Leissner and Ng left the bank over a year ago.

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US prosecutors had painted Low as a bon vivant and a central figure who set up shell companies and arranged the transfers of tens of millions of dollars to pay Malaysian government officials, while Singapore investigators have called him a "key person of interest".

Mr Low has previously denied charges filed in Malaysia, adding that it would be "impossible" for him to receive a fair trial there.

Mr Leissner, who served as Goldman's South East Asia chairman and a participating managing director, has pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money and violate U.S. anti-bribery laws.

An attorney for Najib, Shafee Abdullah, dismissed the latest charges as "foolish".

Meanwhile, a USA court has allowed the sale of a private jet allegedly bought by Low with money taken from 1MDB, court filings show.

Goldman acted as the primary bond underwriter for the fund.

Ng, a managing director at Goldman, and Leissner, who worked as Southeast Asia chairman and managing director at Goldman, sought on three occasions to make Low a formal client, but were rebuffed because officials in the compliance group had "concerns" about the source of the person's wealth and deemed he would not be a "suitable" client.

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