Ex-Goldman Sachs Banker Said Colleagues Were Involved in 1MDB Scandal
Posted November 9, 2018 6:20 p.m. EST
NEW YORK — A former Goldman Sachs banker who helped orchestrate the looting of a multibillion-dollar Malaysian government investment fund told a federal judge that several other employees of the prestigious Wall Street firm had also been involved, according to a court filing unsealed Friday.
The banker, Tim Leissner, told the judge he had “conspired with other employees and agents of Goldman Sachs” to keep compliance and legal department employees from discovering that bribes and kickbacks were being paid to help the bank secure more than $6 billion in bond work for the investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
During his guilty plea in August, Leissner also said his decision to hide his actions from Goldman’s compliance department was “very much in line” with a wider culture at the firm.
The newly released statements by Leissner were the latest indication of the scope of Goldman’s role in a scandal centered on the looting of more than $2.7 billion from an investment fund meant to benefit the people of Malaysia. Instead, the money financed the lavish lifestyles of people connected to former Prime Minister Najib Razak, whom Malaysian authorities charged with corruption in July.
Leissner pleaded guilty to bribery and money laundering charges in Brooklyn on Aug. 28. A redacted transcript of the plea hearing was released by federal prosecutors Friday after Judge Margo K. Brodie in Brooklyn approved a request by lawyers for The New York Times to lift a sealing order on the proceeding.
During the hearing, Leissner said he and his unnamed colleagues hid the fund’s involvement with Jho Low, a flamboyant Malaysian financier, from Goldman’s compliance team. Leissner said Low served as an intermediary on behalf of Goldman in its dealings with Malaysian officials and 1MDB.
“I and several other employees of Goldman Sachs at the time also concealed that we knew that Jho Low was promising and paying bribes and kickbacks to foreign officials to obtain and retain 1MDB business for Goldman Sachs,” he told Brodie.
Low was indicted in October on foreign bribery and money laundering charges along with another former Goldman banker, Roger Ng.
The bank has said it was cooperating with the investigation. A person familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak publicly said Goldman was unaware of the identities of the employees Leissner was referring to in his plea beyond himself and Ng.
Ng, who reported to Leissner, was arrested last week in Malaysia, and federal prosecutors plan to seek his extradition to the United States. Low, who is also wanted on criminal charges by Malaysian authorities, is a fugitive.
Federal prosecutors unsealed the indictment against Low and Ng, along with a criminal information to which Leissner pleaded guilty, last week.
Leissner’s charging document described another Goldman executive as a co-conspirator in the bribery scheme. The banker has been identified by people familiar with the matter as Andrea Vella, who most recently served as co-head of Goldman’s investment banking group in Asia. He was suspended by Goldman last week. Vella could not be reached for comment.
After prosecutors released details of their case last week, Goldman Sachs said for the first time in a regulatory filing it expected to pay “significant fines” to resolve the investigation into its role in the 1MDB scandal. The bank made more than $600 million in fees on the three bond deals.
Until last week, Goldman had sought to portray its role as that of a victim of the actions of Leissner, who the bank had cast as being a rogue employee. The firm put Leissner on leave more than two years ago after it discovered he had personally vouched for Low’s character on Goldman letterhead without the bank’s permission.