US prosecutors unveiled criminal charges on Thursday against two former Goldman Sachs bankers and Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho tied to the alleged theft of billions from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.
The U.S. 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.
The charges are the first arising from a global scandal over the epic corruption scandal at the state investment fund known as 1MDB. "The charges that were leveled, there were no indication or no accusation of benefiting, personally benefiting, from the decisions we have taken".
The third person, the financier popularly known as Jho Low, remains at large.
The BBC has contacted Goldman Sachs for comment.
The transactions were structured as bond deals "rather than other forms of financing, because doing so generated much higher revenues and fees for (Goldman Sachs), improved the bank's reputational standing in both the Southeast Asian region and globally and provided Leissner and other bankers with increased remuneration and professional prestige, even though the bond financing was more expensive for 1MDB", the DOJ said in the criminal information document.
In earlier statements, Low said he would not "submit to any jurisdiction" where he could not get a fair trial, especially Malaysia.
Low, Ng and Leissner are the first individuals to be charged in the USA in relation to the scandal at the state investment arm.
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The 36-year-old Low, whose real name is Low Taek Jho, was indicted in the federal court in the Eastern District of NY on Thursday, the same day the department arrested former Goldman Sachs banker, Ng Chong Hwa (Roger Ng), was arrested in Malaysia.
Mahathir has urged Low to return to Malaysia to sort out the legal issues. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles have filed multiple civil lawsuits to recoup assets bought with some of that money.
Prosecutors say Low, Ng, and Leissner conspired to launder the proceeds of fraud involving 1MDB through the USA financial system.
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 $43.7 million.
But more than US$2.7 billion went to kickbacks and bribes, according to the charges. Goldman Sachs arranged bond offerings that helped the fund raise more than $6 billion, much of which, according to global authorities, was squirreled away in private accounts and used to buy yachts, paintings and high-end real estate.
The investigation rocked Malaysian politics earlier this year, leading voters to oust Mr. Najib. Mr. Ng reported to Mr. Leissner at Goldman. It was not clear if Ng had a lawyer.
The money was deposited in shell companies beneficially owned and controlled by Low, Leissner, Ng, and other co-conspirators, including a high-level official at the Abu Dhabi entity that guaranteed the Project Magnolia bonds and a close relative of Malaysian Official #1, the depatment said.