DoJ charges Jho Low, ex-Goldman Sachs bankers in 1MDB case


New York • US prosecutors unveiled criminal charges yesterday against two former Goldman Sachs Inc bankers and Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho (picture) tied to the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund scandal.

Prosecutors announced that Tim Leissner, former partner for Goldman Sachs in Asia, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and agreed to forfeit US$43.7 million (RM182.59 million).

Roger Ng, the other charged former Goldman banker, was arrested in Malaysia yesterday, prosecutors said.

The third person, the financier popularly known as Jho Low, remains at large. Malaysian officials have said Low is believed to be living in China.

Lawyers for Leissner and Low could not immediately be reached for comment. It was not immediately clear who is representing Ng.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak set up the fund, in which Low played a key role. Najib has consistently denied wrongdoing in connection with alleged graft involving 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

An estimated US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB, by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) has alleged.

Goldman Sachs did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The investment bank, which generated about US$600 million in fees for its work with 1MDB, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said it is fully cooperating with authorities.

While US prosecutors have previously filed civil asset forfeiture suits for assets allegedly bought with some of the stolen funds, these are the first criminal charges the DoJ has brought against individuals in the case under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a federal law targeting official bribery abroad.

At least six countries, including Malaysia, the US and Switzerland, have been investigating alleged thefts from 1MDB.

While US prosecutors have considered the possibility of charging Najib or his associates, they would prefer Malaysia be the one to file criminal charges against any Malaysian official, a US law enforcement official said.

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

The Bombardier Global 5000 jet is among US$1.7 billion in assets allegedly purchased by Low and his associates with funds stolen from 1MDB, the DoJ has said.

A judge in a California court agreed on Wednesday to a proposal between the DoJ and the company that owns the jet, Global One Aviation, to sell the aircraft.

A spokesman for Global One Aviation said a formal bidding process should start immediately.

In a separate filing on Wednesday, the court agreed to replace Low’s stake in EMI Music Publishing in the forfeiture case with the proceeds from a proposed stake sale to Sony Corp. — Reuters