Monday, March 18, 2019
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US charges Malaysian financier, Goldman Sachs bankers over 1MDB

US Justice Department announces its first indictments in the billion-dollar scandal that has roiled Malaysia.

Jho Low

Prosecutors in the United States have unveiled criminal charges against a Malaysian financier and two former Goldman Sachs bankers tied to the billion-dollar 1MDB sovereign wealth fund scandal.

The three-count indictment on Thursday charges Low Taek Jho of misappropriating money from the state-owned fund and using it to bribe foreign officials and to pay for luxury real estate, art and jewellery in the US and to fund Hollywood films, including "The Wolf of Wall Street."

Low, also known as Jho Low, remains at large.

Also charged by the US Department of Justice was a Goldman Sachs banker, Tim Leissner, who pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy and to conspiring to violate foreign bribery laws. Another bank official, Ng Chong Hwa, 51, also known as Roger Ng, was arrested earlier on Thursday in Malaysia, prosecutors said.

Goldman has not yet responded to the indictments.

The investment bank, which generated about $600m in fees for its work with 1MDB, has in the past repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said it was cooperating with authorities.

US prosecutors previously filed civil asset forfeiture suits for assets allegedly bought with some of the stolen funds.

Epic scandal

The 1MDB scandal refers to a money laundering and bribery scheme that pilfered billions of dollars from a Malaysian investment fund set up in 2009 by former Prime Minister Najib promote economic development in the country.

The epic corruption scandal has roiled politics in Malaysia, leading to criminal charges against Najib.

An estimated $4.5bn was misappropriated from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, the US justice department alleged.

Roughly $681m of that money is alleged to have ended up in private bank accounts belonging to Najib, who is facing 38 charges of corruption in an ongoing investigation into the 1MDB scandal.

The former prime minister has admitted "there are things that went wrong in 1MDB" during an exclusive interview, though he maintains he was unaware of malfeasance and his "conscience is clear".

Najib's wife, Rosmah Mansor, also appeared in court last month to face 17 charges of money laundering and unpaid taxes.

Amid the scandal, former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohammad came out of retirement and the opposition united behind him in May's national elections, leading to Najib's removal and him becoming prime minister.

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