Ex-Goldman banker linked to 1MDB scandal had jet-set lifestyle with glamorous wife

PHOTO: Instagram / Kimora Lee Simmons

SINGAPORE - Tim Leissner, whom Monetary Authority of Singapore plans to sanction, was once a star banker with Goldman Sachs Group known for his ability to cut deals and living the high life with his glamorous model-wife Kimora Lee Simmons.

Mr Leissner, 45, the firm's former Southeast Asia chairman, is facing scrutiny over breaches related to the illegal diversification of billions of dollars from Malaysian wealth fund 1MDB, and Monetary Authority of Singapore plans to bar him from the securities industry for 10 years .

He was found to have issued an unauthorised reference letter to a financial institution based in Luxembourg in June 2015, using the company letterhead. The letter stated that Goldman Sachs had conducted due diligence on Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho and his family, and had not detected any money laundering concerns with respect to Mr Low or his family.

Mr Low, also known as Jho Low, has been identified as a person of interest in the 1MDB-related probe. US prosecutors have alleged that he diverted US$3.5 billion (S$4.9 billion) from 1MDB.

Mr Leissner, who is reported to have a master's from the University of Hartford in Connecticut, joined Goldman Sachs in 1998, and was the chief of staff to Richard Gnodde, president of the bank's Asia operations. He got his big break in 2002 in Singapore, where he was made the firm's local head of investment banking.

Under his stewardship, Goldman Sachs helped manage billionaire T Ananda Krishnan's 2009 initial public offering of Maxis Bhd, Malaysia's biggest wireless operator, Bloomberg reported.

Mr Krishnan also controlled Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd, the largest pay-TV broadcaster, and Goldman Sachs was there when it went public, too.

By 2009, Mr Leissner - known for his networking skills - was helping Goldman Sachs score billion-dollar deals with state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB). The firm got a commission of 9.1 per cent, much higher than the normal rate of 5 per cent, Daily Mail reported. As a result, Goldman Sachs pocketed a neat US$593 million (S$846.2 million) working on three bond sales that raised US$6.5 billion for 1MDB in 2012 and 2013, Bloomberg reported.

Mr Leissner moved to Hong Kong in November 2011 but maintained his representative status with Goldman Singapore and was therefore subject to MAS' requirements to being fit and proper to carry out regulated activities, MAS said yesterday.

He managed the client relationship with state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) for all its three bond issues from 2012 to 2013, added MAS.

Bloomberg had earlier reported sources as saying that Goldman pocketed as much as US$593 million from the three bond sales that raised US$6.5 billion for 1MDB in 2012 and 2013.

By 2014, Mr Leissner became the firm's Southeast Asia chairman. He reportedly met his wife Kimora Lee Simmons, 41, on a flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur. It began with an argument and ended with a marriage proposal, according to an interview in the Wall Street Journal.

She was previously married to the American media mogul Russell Simmons, who co-founded hip-hop music label Def Jam Recordings, while he was previously married to Judy Chan, whose father ran a coal-mining business in China. They have a one-year old son Wolfe.

Ms Lee Simmons' social media accounts chronicle the couple's jet-set life, including holidays on luxury yachts inthe Caribbean . In snapshots she posted to Twitter, she is seen with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife.

When the 1MDB scandal broke in 2015, controversy swirled over whether the money raised by the fund was spent as intended on local projects or siphoned off.

Switzerland's prosecutors asked for Malaysia's help investigating 1MDB, saying they suspected US$4 billion may have been misappropriated.

Goldman Sachs reviewed the bond sales deal and found the reference letter he wrote. He was put on leave and he resigned in February.

Mr Leissner moved with his family to Los Angeles where he has a 9,405 sq ft (873 sq m) house with seven bedrooms, a gym, tennis court and a guest house, Bloomberg reported.

US investigators subpoenaed him in February over the 1MDB work.

The MAS said it would serve notice against Mr Leissner which will prohibit him for a period of 10 years from performing any regulated activity under the Securities Future Act, or taking part, directly or indirectly, in the management of any capital market services firm in Singapore.

Reacting to the news reports, Mr Leissner's counsel issued a statement saying that no order or sanctions have been imposed by the MAS or any other regulatory agency.

"Prior to today, Mr Leissner had not heard of any contemplated regulatory action by the MAS," the statement said. "He has not been interviewed by the MAS. He has been invited by the MAS to respond to the allegations raised in the Notice, and he looks forward to doing so."

This article was first published on December 2, 2016.
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