U.S. charges financier, former Goldman bankers for 1MDB

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors unveiled criminal charges on Thursday against two former Goldman Sachs Inc bankers and Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho tied to the Malaysia 1MDB sovereign wealth fund scandal.

Men walk past a 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) billboard at the fund's flagship Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur March 1, 2015. REUTERS/Olivia Harris/File Photo

Prosecutors announced that Tim Leissner, former partner for Goldman Sachs in Asia, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and agreed to forfeit $43.7 million.

Roger Ng, the other charged former Goldman banker, was arrested in Malaysia, prosecutors said.

The third person, the financier popularly known as Jho Low, remains at large. Malaysian officials have said Low is believed to be living in China.

Lawyers for Leissner and Low could not immediately be reached for comment. It was not immediately clear who is representing Ng.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak set up the fund, in which Low played a key role. Najib has consistently denied wrongdoing in connection with alleged graft involving 1MDB.

An estimated $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, by high-level officials of the fund and their associates, the U.S. Justice Department has alleged.

Goldman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The investment bank, which generated about $600 million in fees for its work with 1MDB, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said it is fully cooperating with authorities.

While U.S. prosecutors have previously filed civil asset forfeiture suits for assets allegedly bought with some of the stolen funds, these are the first criminal charges the Justice Department has brought against individuals in the case under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a federal law targeting official bribery abroad.

At least six countries, including Malaysia, the United States and Switzerland, have been investigating alleged thefts from 1MDB.

While U.S. prosecutors have considered the possibility of charging Najib or his associates, they would prefer Malaysia be the one to file criminal charges against any Malaysian official, a U.S. law enforcement official said.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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