NEW YORK -- Federal prosecutors told a jury Monday that a former Goldman Sachs executive pocketed $35 million in “secret kickbacks” in the multibillion-dollar ransacking of a Malaysian state investment fund, accusing the banker of playing a “crucial” role in the massive money laundering and bribery scheme.
Roger Ng also deleted personal email accounts to cover his tracks and “used his own wife and mother-in-law as a front to hide his identity," federal prosecutor Brent Wible said as the long-delayed corruption trial opened in Brooklyn.
“He saw an opportunity to make millions of dollars by cheating," Wible said, “and he took it.”
Ng's own defense attorneys described the looting of $4.5 billion from the 1MDB state investment fund as “perhaps the single largest heist in the history of the world.” But they contend U.S. prosecutors scapegoated Ng for “corporate-wide" failures at Goldman that enabled the colossal fraud.
“Roger is 100% innocent,” defense attorney Marc Agnifilo told the jury. “We're about to actually have a trial of an innocent man."
Jurors were urged by both sides to follow the money in a complex trial expected to last several weeks. Prosecutors say the paper trail implicates Ng in a sprawling web of lies, offshore accounts and shell companies. They say Ng also conspired to launder pilfered funds through the U.S. financial system.
The embezzlement bankrolled lavish spending on jewels, art, a superyacht and luxury real estate. The spoils even helped finance Hollywood movies, including the 2013 Leonardo DiCaprio film “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
But Agnifilo said it was Ng who raised the earliest red flags about Low Taek Jho, the Malaysian financier and fugitive socialite known as Jho Low who is accused of masterminding the audacious scheme. Ng’s only role, he said, was introducing Low to “far more involved” superiors at Goldman who escaped prosecution.
“In perhaps the most amazing twist of the case, it was Roger Ng who as early as March 2010 specifically warned his superiors at Goldman that Low was a politically exposed person, that Low was not to be trusted, and that Goldman should use caution in dealing with Low,” Agnifilo wrote in a court filing.
A former head of investment banking in Malaysia, Ng is the only Goldman banker to stand trial in the 1MDB scandal. The 49-year-old has pleaded not guilty to three counts, including conspiring to launder money and violating an anti-bribery law.
A message was sent to Goldman Sachs seeking comment. A Goldman Sachs subsidiary admitted “knowingly and willfully” conspiring to violate U.S. anti-bribery laws, agreeing to pay more than $2.9 billion. The penalties included roughly $600 million in profits Goldman made off the 1MDB scandal. That came on top of $3.9 billion Goldman paid Malaysia.
Low, who maintains his innocence, became well known in the New York City and Los Angeles club scenes. In 2012, he threw a lavish 31st birthday bash attended by DiCaprio, Kim Kardashian and other celebrities — a fête described by The Wall Street Journal as the “wildest party (Las) Vegas ever saw.”
Bond sales organized by Goldman Sachs for the 1MDB investment fund provided a way for associates of Najib Razak, the former prime minister of Malaysia, to steal and launder billions over several years.
Najib set up 1MDB when he took power in 2009, ostensibly to accelerate Malaysia’s economic development. But the fund amassed billions in debts and, in 2018, ultimately brought down his government. In 2020, he was convicted in Malaysia of abuse of power and other charges and sentenced to 12 years in jail.
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.