NEW YORK (AP) — A former Goldman Sachs banker was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in prison for his role in looting a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund of billions of dollars used to finance lavish parties, a superyacht, premium real estate and even the 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Roger Ng was convicted last April by a U.S. District Court jury in Brooklyn, but he continues to deny charges that he conspired to launder money and violated two anti-bribery laws. Prosecutors said Ng and his co-conspirators helped the Malaysian fund, known as 1MDB, to raise $6.5 billion through bond sales — only to participate in a scheme that siphoned off more than two-thirds of the money, some of which went to pay bribes and kickbacks.
Reading from a prepared statement, Ng pleaded for mercy from U.S. District Judge Margo Brodie. “I’m embarrassed. I’m ashamed,” he told the judge. “I don’t want to live in resentment,” he said. “I want to redeem myself.” The judge admonished Ng: “The only explanation for your conduct is greed.”
Ng had hoped to avoid prison time and be allowed to return to Malaysia, where he faces a separate prosecution. His lawyers argued that incarceration would worsen his “serious mental health condition.”
The looting of the state-controlled development fund — and attempts to cover up the thefts — upended Malaysia’s government, sent ripples through Hollywood, where some of the stolen money had gone to finance films, and touched on Washington, D.C., where people involved in the scheme funded a campaign to influence the outcome of the investigation.
The person accused of being the architect of the plot, the Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, also known as “Jho Low,” remains an international fugitive. Before he went into hiding, he was known for his business and social ties to American celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio and Kim Kardashian.
Ng’s lawyers acknowledged the 1MDB looting was “perhaps the single largest heist in the history of the world,” but said their client was the fall guy for Low and a fellow Goldman Sachs banker also charged in the $4.5 billion scheme.
Tim Leissner, Ng’s former boss at Goldman Sachs, pleaded guilty in 2018 to bribing government officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi. He was ordered to pay $43.7 million and became a key government witness during Ng’s two-month trial.
Ng was extradited to the United States in 2019 after spending six months in custody in Malaysia. He has been under house arrest for the past four years. Federal prosecutors had asked for a 15-year sentence.
Ng was allowed to leave the courthouse and will surrender to authorities in two months, unless the judge grants his request to remain released on bail while he appeals. The judge declined to issue a fine, and would consider a forfeiture amount in the coming days. That amount could be anything up to $35 million.
Ng, who oversaw investment banking in Malaysia for his firm, said Leissner implicated him to gain leniency during his own sentencing. Leissner has not yet been sentenced.
In 2020, Goldman Sachs acknowledged its role in the embezzlement scheme and paid more than US$2.3 billion as part of a plea deal with the U.S. government. The firm also reached a $3.9 billion settlement with the government of Malaysia.
The U.S. government said the theft of so much money harmed the people of Malaysia. The fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, was set up in 2009 by Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak to promote economic development.
The financial scandal helped topple his government during the country’s 2018 elections. A Malaysian court would later find him guilty of abusing his power and committing other crimes connected to the massive embezzlement. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison. But Najib was acquitted last week of tampering with an audit to cover up wrongdoing.
The scandal touched on several figures in the U.S.
A top fundraiser for former President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, Elliott Broidy, was charged with running an illegal lobbying campaign on Jho Low’s behalf to get the Justice Department to drop its investigation into 1MDB’s looting. Broidy pleaded guilty, but was pardoned by Trump, so was never sentenced.
A member of the hip-hop group the Fugees, Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, was also charged with being part of a conspiracy to help Low make illegal campaign contributions. Michel says he is innocent. He is awaiting trial.