Former Goldman Sachs managing director Roger Ng was found guilty Friday of conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and commit money laundering, nearly 16 hours after jurors began deliberating in federal court in Brooklyn.
Ng, a Malaysian citizen who was extradited to the United States before his trial was delayed nearly two years due to the pandemic, was accused of playing a crucial role in siphoning money from bond deals associated with the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB. Prosecutors said the money was intended for roads and power grid improvements in Malaysia but was instead used to bribe officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi and to pay a $35 million kickback to Ng personally.
Ng’s lead defense attorney Marc Agnifilo of Brafman & Associates dropped his head to his chest as the verdict was read, later explaining that he felt he played a key role in persuading Ng to come to the United States to face the charges. Ng also has charges pending in Malaysia.
Agnifilo said he discussed the case with Ng in Malaysia after he had already spent six months in a Malaysian jail, and under the circumstances, he did not regret recommending the move.
“I told him … you’ll be far better off in the United States,” Agnifilo said. “We have a real system, you’ll have a real trial.”
Ng remained stoic as the verdict was read.
“He’s doing better than his lawyers,” Agnifilo said.
The defense motion to set aside the verdict will be due next month, and Agnifilo said he expects to focus on the second of the three counts of the case, conspiracy to violate the FCPA through circumvention of Goldman Sachs’ internal accounting controls. Ng’s case was the first time that count had been submitted to a jury.
“I think the government tried it as a fraud count … it’s explicitly not a fraud count,” Agnifilo told reporters, saying it instead relates to the bank’s accounting practices.
Agnifilo said the defense team will also consider an appeal, depending on Ng’s sentence and what happens next with his charges in Malaysia.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Breon Peace of the Eastern District of New York described the 1MDB scheme as “massive” and “obscene in its greed.”
“Today’s verdict is a victory for not only the rule of law, but also for the people of Malaysia for whom the fund was supposed to help, by raising money for projects to develop their country’s economy,” Peace said. “The defendant and his cronies saw 1MDB not as an entity to do good for the people of Malaysia, but as a piggy bank to enrich themselves with piles of money siphoned from the fund.”
U.S. District Chief Judge Margo K. Brodie presided over the trial. She rejected the government’s request to add electronic monitoring for Ng ahead of his sentencing, saying she had no reason to believe Ng was a flight risk.
U.S. Department of Justice officials in 2020 announced that Goldman Sachs and its Malaysian subsidiary had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement in connection with the scheme and had agreed to pay more than $2.9 billion in a coordinated resolution in the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore and elsewhere.
A key piece of the government’s case was the testimony of former Goldman partner Timothy Leissner, who worked as Ng’s boss in the Asia division of the bank and who testified as part of a cooperation agreement with the government. Leissner pleaded guilty in 2018 to conspiring to launder money and conspiring to violate the FCPA.
Leissner testified that he worked with Ng and Malaysian businessman Jho Low, who was named as a co-conspirator in the case and remains at large, to plan how they would transfer money from 1MDB to bribe key government officials and pay kickbacks for themselves through a series of shell companies.
Agnifilo highlighted Leissner’s tangled personal life as he sought to convince jurors that Leissner made up key portions of his testimony in an effort to implicate Ng.
Leissner acknowledged that, on two separate occasions, he married a woman before completing his divorce from his previous wife and did not share that information with the women involved. Agnifilo extolled the trusting relationship that typically exists within marriage while arguing that Leissner was unlikely to have told the full truth in court.
Prosecutors argued that one of Leissner’s wives transferred money at his direction to distance him from the scheme, and they accused Ng’s wife Hwee Bin Lim of performing similar activities on Ng’s behalf.
Lim was called to testify as one of the defense’s final witnesses, and she insisted that the couple’s banking activities were legitimate.
Jurors also had to weigh the issue of venue in the case, which involved meetings on both coasts of the United States and in several countries around the world.
Prosecutors emphasized that the Eastern District of New York includes the waters surrounding Manhattan and the Bronx along with Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island, and they presented evidence showing Ng passed through the district as he crossed the Hudson River from New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport to a meeting in Manhattan.
Agnifilo urged the jury to remain skeptical and reminded them that the decision on the appropriate venue was theirs.
“Just ‘cause we’re all here doesn’t mean it’s the right place to be,” Agnifilo said during his closing statement.