NEW YORK: Two former Goldman Sachs bankers sought advice from a feng shui master in 2016 on how to handle a US investigation into the looting of funds from Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund, one of the bankers, Tim Leissner, testified.
Leissner was the prosecutors’ star witness at the Brooklyn federal court trial of Roger Ng, 49, who had pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to launder money and violate an anti-bribery law.
Leissner, 52, pleaded guilty to similar charges in 2018 and agreed to cooperate with the government.
He testified on Tuesday that after the FBI served him with a subpoena in February 2016, Ng and his wife, Hwee Bin Lim, suggested he consult a feng shui master they trusted to ask whether they “would be in trouble”.
Ng had left Goldman in 2014, Leissner said.
Prosecutors said Goldman from 2009 to 2014 raised US$6.5bil for 1MDB through bond sales and earned US$600mil in fees but that US$4.5bil was diverted to officials, bankers and their associates through bribes.
Leissner testified he and Ng played a key role in that scheme and he personally transferred US$35mil in kickbacks to Ng, Goldman’s top banker for Malaysia.
Leissner oversaw the firm’s South-East Asia team. He said Ng and Lim had attended his meeting with the feng shui master at a Hong Kong hotel, where the master said he would have trouble with authorities over the next five years but that the problems would later resolve themselves.
“I was in a panic,” Leissner said. “They felt this would give me comfort.”
At the end of the meeting, Leissner said he, Ng and Lim concocted a “cover story” involving Lim and Leissner’s then-wife, Judy Chan, to justify the US$35mil in funds.
The testimony could prove problematic for Ng, who argued that the money prosecutors called ill-gotten gains was actually derived from a legitimate business venture between the two men’s wives.
Ng’s lawyer had said he played no role in the scheme beyond introducing Leissner to an intermediary close to the Malaysian government, and said Ng later warned Goldman not to trust the intermediary.
Lawyers for Ng were expected to call Lim to testify in her husband’s defence. They began cross-examining Leissner, who had already testified for five full days, on Thursday morning.
Goldman in 2020 paid a nearly US$3bil fine and arranged for its Malaysian unit to plead guilty in US court.
In his first day on cross-examination, Leissner admitted he forged documents in 2014 to dupe his now-estranged wife, Kimora Lee Simmons, into believing he was divorced so she would agree to marry him. Simmons was a model, reality TV personality and ex-wife of rap mogul Russell Simmons.
Leissner testified he could not recall the exact conversation that occurred when he showed Simmons the fake divorce papers at his Beverly Hills home in 2014, saying, “I just gave her the document, and that was it.”
The once high-flying financier admitted that his personal-life lies fit a pattern that dated to the early 2000s, when – while in the middle of seeking a quick divorce from his first wife without her knowledge – he married a Goldman colleague.
“So you were married to two women at the same time?” defence attorney Marc Agnifilo asked. “Yes,” Leissner responded.
The defence contends prosecutors were making Ng a scapegoat for “corporate-wide” failures at Goldman that enabled the colossal fraud orchestrated by Leissner and Low Taek Jho, the Malaysian financier and fugitive socialite known as Jho Low.
Leissner testified on direct examination earlier on Tuesday that once it was becoming clear around 2017 that there was a investigation into 1MDB, Low encouraged him to keep quiet while he sought a financial settlement with the administration of former President Donald Trump to make the case go away.
Leissner said Low claimed he had met with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner in China to try to broker a deal but the witness made clear he had no direct knowledge that the meeting actually happened. — Agencies