Former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker Roger Ng is in plea talks to avoid a United States (US) trial on charges that he broke American anti-bribery laws and conspired to launder money embezzled from Malaysia’s state investment fund, 1MDB.
Ng arrived in New York from Malaysia early Monday and appeared in federal court in Brooklyn, where he entered a not guilty plea. But Magistrate Peggy Kuo said at his arraignment that a constitutional guarantee to a speedy trial was being set aside because the two sides are “engaged in plea negotiations.”
Asked about the talks after court, Ng’s lawyer Marc Agnifilo walked back the suggestion of talks with prosecutors, saying: “We are not in active plea negotiations.” He said Ng “will consider all options available to every defendant.”
"It’s really too early to tell,” Agnifilo said. “It’s hard to manage a case with a client in jail on the other side of the Earth.”
Prosecutors alleged bribes and kickbacks were paid in connection with Goldman’s bond offerings on 1MDB’s behalf, which helped the fund raise more than US$6 billion and which generated some US$600 million in fees for the bank. Former senior Goldman Sachs banker Tim Leissner pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money and violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by paying bribes to Malaysia and Abu Dhabi officials and circumventing Goldman’s internal accounting controls.
Ng is also charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA and a money-laundering conspiracy, crimes which carry a maximum sentence of decades in prison.
Also charged is Jho Low, the alleged mastermind behind the multibillion-dollar theft from 1MDB. He remains at large. US prosecutors are looking to sell Low’s US$39 million mansion in Los Angeles that he allegedly bought in 2012 with money stolen from the investment fund.
In a statement distributed by public relations firm Reevemark LLC, Low criticised the Malaysian government, accusing it of being politically motivated and persecuting its predecessors with “show trials and abusive use of arrest warrants.”
“It is good that Mr. Ng has been rescued from Malaysia’s inhumane prison conditions and a process controlled by a leader with a history of abusing the judicial system to destroy political opponents,” Low said.
Ng was Leissner’s deputy and left Goldman in 2014. He was detained in Kuala Lumpur in November after the US charges were made public.
Wearing a blue cotton shirt, dark blue slacks and black sneakers, Ng appeared somewhat disoriented.
Agnifilo said Ng was infected with Dengue fever while in a Malaysian jail and has lost a significant amount of weight.
"I thought it made sense to get him here," Agnifilo said. "The US case wasn’t going away and I thought it was better for him to get here and get on with it."
Ng was granted bail after agreeing to put up US$1 million in cash to secure a US$20 million bond. He also surrendered his passport and must remain in the New York City area. He’ll be placed under house arrest at a location that hasn’t been publicly disclosed and will be monitored electronically. The next hearing is scheduled for 23 May.
Agnifilo said he was in Malaysia in February and told authorities there that his client wanted to come to New York to face the US charges. Ng will stay in the US as long as necessary to fight them, Agnifilo said.
"There’s a tremendous amount to learn,” Agnifilo said on Monday. “Since he’s been in jail in Malaysia, I’ve only been able to speak to him for about only four hours.”
Malaysia’s Attorney General Tommy Thomas said Ng was extradited on a warrant that allows him to remain in US custody for up to 10 months. The term can be extended if both, Malaysia and the US agree, Thomas said in a statement.
After the US prosecution is finished, Ng will return to Malaysia to face separate 1MDB-related charges brought by the Southeast Asian nation, Thomas said.
“This arrangement is further evidence of the strong collaboration between the relevant government agencies of our two countries in all matters pertaining to the massive 1MDB scandal,” Thomas said in the statement.
The agreement to send Ng to the US marks an about-face from Minister of Home Affairs Muhyiddin Yassin’s earlier insistence on delaying his extradition to prioritise the Malaysian case against the former banker. That had risked raising questions over Malaysia’s willingness to cooperate with other jurisdictions in getting to the bottom of the global scandal.
However, Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad last week lauded the return of millions of dollars of 1MDB funds from the US and Singapore.
Malaysia has also charged Goldman with misleading investors when it helped 1MDB raise money through bond deals in 2012 and 2013, while knowing that the funds would be misappropriated. Goldman has denied the allegations and said it will defend against the charges. - Bloomberg