Ex-Goldman Sachs bankers consulted feng shui master on 1MDB probe, court hears

Witness Timothy Leissner points out former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng in Brooklyn federal court in New York in February. Courtroom sketch.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

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 on Tuesday (March 1).

Leissner is the prosecutors’ star witness at the Brooklyn federal court trial of Roger Ng, 49, who has 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.

Leissner testified 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.

The charges stem from one of the biggest financial scandals in history. Prosecutors say Goldman from 2009 to 2014 raised US$6.5 billion (S$8.8 billion) for 1MDB through bond sales and earned US$600 million in fees, but that US$4.5 billion was diverted to officials, bankers and their associates through bribes and kickbacks.

Leissner testified that he and Ng played a key role in that scheme and that he personally transferred US$35 million in kickbacks to Ng, Goldman’s top banker for Malaysia. Leissner oversaw the firm’s Southeast Asia team.

He said on Tuesday that Ng and Lim 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 and they wanted to show their support.”

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$35 million in funds.

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The testimony could prove problematic for Ng, who argued that the money prosecutors call ill-gotten gains was actually derived from a legitimate business venture between the two men’s wives.

Leissner also admitted under cross-examination on Tuesday that he had “lied a lot” in his life.

Ng’s lawyer Marc Agnifilo grilled Leissner about his romantic relationships with five different women. Leissner said he had twice been secretly married to two women at the same time, and had on at least one occasion forged a divorce certificate to mislead a woman he wanted to marry.

“I have lied a lot sir, and I have regretted those choices,” Leissner said.

Ng’s lawyer has said he played no role in the scheme beyond introducing Leissner to an intermediary close to the Malaysian government, and says Ng later warned Goldman not to trust the intermediary.

Lawyers for Ng are expected to call Lim to testify in her husband’s defence.

Goldman in 2020 paid a nearly US$3 billion fine and arranged for its Malaysian unit to plead guilty in US court.