US charges Malaysian financier in multibillion-dollar scheme

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's adviser Daim Zainuddin had previously said Low attempted to contact him several times on Sept 6

The Justice Department announced charges Thursday against a fugitive Malaysian financier and two former Goldman Sachs bankers accused in a money laundering and bribery scheme that pilfered billions of dollars from a Malaysian investment fund created to spur economic development projects in that country.

The DOJ indictments unsealed Thursday are a big step forward in the American investigation, with authorities accusing Low and ex-Goldman bankers Tim Leissner and Ng Chong Hwa of conspiracy to commit money-laundering and bribery.

Roger Ng, the other charged former Goldman banker, was arrested in Malaysia at the request of USA authorities and is expected to be extradited, according to John Marzulli, a spokesman for the prosecution.

Low's is still at large.

"Low simply asks that the public keep an open mind regarding this case until all of the evidence comes to light, which he believes will vindicate him". A lawyer for Leissner could not be reached for comment.

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The issue exploded in July 2015 when the Wall Street Journal published documents showing Najib received at least $681 million in payments to his personal bank accounts. Red Granite was run by Riza Aziz, the stepson of Najib Razak, the former Malaysian prime minister.

In October 2014, Jho Low and co-conspirators wire transferred $4.1 million (17 million ringgit) to a NY jeweler to pay for gold jewelry for the wife of MO1, USA justice officials alleged.

Najib has consistently denied wrongdoing in connection with alleged graft involving 1MDB.

Low's statement said that he held no formal position at 1MDB and was never employed by Goldman Sachs or the governments of Malaysia and Abu Dhabi.

The department said a former Goldman banker pleaded guilty. Three weeks earlier, the necklace was purchased for about $27.3 million (114 million ringgit) from a shell company controlled by Low and others, the US government alleges.

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Goldman said in an emailed statement that it "continues to cooperate with all authorities investigating this matter". He denies any wrongdoing.

The set of charges represent the first criminal prosecutions in the US arising from the epic corruption scandal at the state investment fund known as 1MDB.

The other banker has been arrested, while Mr. While at Goldman (ticker: GS), Leissner was a powerful and senior figure: He was a partner at the bank and chairman of its Southeast Asia business.

While U.S. 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 overseas.

Malaysia's extraordinary 1MDB corruption scandal allegedly saw top officials loot billions from a government fund and go on a worldwide spending spree, buying up super-yachts, Van Gogh artwork and financing a Hollywood blockbuster. The 93-year-old is now prime minister and reopened the probe into the 1MDB fund. Police have also seized hundreds of luxury handbags, jewelry and cash - worth more than $266 million - during raids on apartments linked to Najib's family.

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"Low explained to Ng, Leissner and others at that time that, to complete the transaction, bribes would need to be paid to officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi", the government alleged in a news release, adding that millions of dollars were paid to officials in those two countries.

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