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US indicts Jho Low and ex-Goldman banker

Jho Low and Ng Chong Hwa charged with conspiracy to launder billions of dollars in illegal proceeds from 1MDB

Manhattan

US AUTHORITIES indicted Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho and former Goldman Sachs banker Ng Chong Hwa on charges of conspiracy to launder billions of dollars in illegal proceeds from Malaysia's 1MDB wealth fund, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said.

Tim Leissner, a former top Goldman banker in Asia who led Goldman Sachs's bond offerings for the fund, pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money and to violating foreign bribery laws, prosecutors said. He's been ordered to forfeit US$43.7 million. Low, known as Jho Low, remains at large, prosecutors said in a statement. Ng, known as Roger Ng, was arrested earlier on Thursday in Malaysia, pursuant to a provisional arrest warrant issued at the request of the US, they said.

Low, Ng and Leissner are the first individuals to be charged in the US in relation to the scandal at 1MDB.

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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 Justice Department has brought against individuals in the case under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a federal law targeting official bribery abroad.

Leissner and his then-deputy Ng helped arrange bond offerings that raised more than US$6 billion for the investment fund, known formally as 1Malaysia Development Bhd, in deals that were lucrative for the bank.

The US alleges that a small coterie of Malaysians led by Low diverted money from 1MDB into personal accounts disguised to look like legitimate businesses, and kicked back some of those funds to officials.

Some of the money is alleged to have ended up with former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his family.

Prosecutors alleged bribes and kickbacks were paid in connecting with Goldman's bond offerings on 1MDB's behalf, which generated some US$600 million in fees for the bank. Such payments were "known to Ng, Leissner and other employees" of the bank, according to prosecutors.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak set up the fund, in which Low played a key role. Najib has consistently denied wrongdoing in connection with alleged graft involving 1MDB. An estimated US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, the US Justice Department has alleged.

At least six countries, including Malaysia, the United States 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. BLOOMBERG, REUTERS