A key witness in the bribery and money-laundering trial of a former Goldman Sachs executive said the scheme to loot billions of dollars from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund was laid out a decade ago inside the apartment of a flamboyant Asian businessman who remains on the run.
Tim Leissner, a former Goldman partner who has pleaded guilty in the scheme, testified in Brooklyn federal court on Wednesday that the businessman, Jho Low, had told him and the defendant, his former colleague Roger Ng, about the plan to pay up to $1 billion in bribes to foreign officials.
Mr. Ng’s trial began on Monday and is expected to last several weeks. It will most likely be the only trial that will take place on U.S. soil over the looting of the Malaysian fund known as 1MDB. Mr. Leissner and a Goldman Sachs subsidiary have already pleaded guilty in the case while Mr. Low, a free-spending financier who liked to host lavish parties in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, remains a fugitive.
Mr. Leissner, who said he had been “close friends” with Mr. Ng as well as his supervisor for Goldman in Asia, was the first prosecution witness to draw Mr. Ng into the center of the brazen scheme to loot the 1MDB fund.
Prosecutors around the globe have said the money raised for the fund was supposed to finance infrastructure projects to benefit the Malaysian people, but was instead used to finance lavish spending by Mr. Low and others close to the country’s former prime minister, Najib Razak.
Mr. Leissner said Mr. Low hosted the 2012 meeting at his London apartment. There, Mr. Low described in detail all the government officials who would be paid bribes in order for Goldman to secure the rights to arrange billions of dollars in bond offerings for the 1MDB fund, Mr. Leissner testified.
Mr. Low also told the former Goldman executives that the bribe money would have to come from the proceeds of the bond offering — and that they would get some of those proceeds as well, according to Mr. Leissner.
“Roger and I were told by Jho that we would be taken care of,” Mr. Leissner said.
Mr. Leissner said he had known that the scheme was illegal but it did not bother him because securing the bond deals for Goldman would have produced big fees for the Wall Street bank. “I wanted to be a hero at Goldman Sachs,” he said.
It was Mr. Ng who originally introduced Mr. Leissner and several others at Goldman to Mr. Low in 2008, Mr. Leissner testified. He added that he and Mr. Ng soon realized that Mr. Low was the key to getting the bond underwriting work for Goldman, even though he had no position at 1MDB.
“He never had any official role yet he was the key decision maker,” Mr. Leissner said.
Mr. Low, who has also been charged with bribery and money laundering, is believed to be residing in China.
Mr. Leissner said he and Mr. Ng both kept their dealings with Mr. Low from most of their Goldman colleagues after the bank had officially rejected their efforts to bring him in as a wealth management client. While several bankers at Goldman did know that Mr. Low was serving as a middleman on the 1MDB negotiations, only he and Mr. Ng knew the details of the looting of the fund, Mr. Leissner said.
On cross-examination, lawyers for Mr. Ng are expected to question Mr. Leissner on his character and his claims about the degree of Mr. Ng’s involvement in the 1MDB negotiations.
Defense lawyers could draw from a dossier that Goldman had put together presenting Mr. Leissner as a master con artist, while the bank was negotiating its own deal with prosecutors and regulators. In his opening statement on Monday, Marc Agnifilo, one of Mr. Ng’s lawyers, sought to call Mr. Leissner’s character into question, calling him a “double bigamist” and claiming that he was twice married to two women at the same time.