A former banker who allegedly conspired with fugitive financier Jho Low to embezzle billions from state development fund 1MDB was arrested in Malaysia and is to be extradited to the United States to face trial, a senior police official said Friday.
Ng Chong Hwa (also known as Roger Ng), who has been identified as a former Goldman Sachs banker, was captured during a covert police operation on Thursday, a day after an arrest warrant was issued against him.
“I can confirm that we have arrested the man [Ng] yesterday. He will be extradited, but there is no exact date. The process is ongoing,” said Amar Singh Ishar Singh, director of the Malaysian federal police’s Commercial Crime Investigation Department.
On Thursday in New York, the U.S. government unsealed a three-count indictment against Ng and Jho Low (also known as Low Taek Jho), and announced that former Goldman Sachs banker Tim Leissner had pleaded guilty to two counts related to laundering money from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund.
A spokesman for Jho Low, who remains in hiding and is wanted by Malaysian authorities, posted a statement on the financier’s website maintaining his innocence.
A source who asked to remain anonymous told BenarNews that Ng was being held at the Jinjang central police lockup on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur and was expected to be questioned before being extradited to face American charges.
“The Commercial Crime unit will record his statement first then the Anti-Money Laundering unit regarding the 1MDB probe,” the source said.
The statement issued on Jho Low’s behalf pointed out that he held no formal position at 1MDB and was never employed by Goldman Sachs.
“Furthermore, the bond offerings detailed in the indictment were undertaken openly and lawfully between experienced, well-regulated financial institutions and government entities,” the statement said.
The site was launched in September by Wells Haslem Mayhew Strategic Public Affairs, an Australian PR consultancy firm representing Jho Low, to provide information through his lawyers, a top executive from the company told Reuters at the time.
In charging documents, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) did not name Goldman Sachs but alleged that Ng and Leissner had hidden their partnership with Jho Low from the financial institution because compliance and intelligence officers refused to approve the business relationship over concerns about the source of his wealth.
The statement from Jho Low’s spokesman went on to say the indictment contained allegations only and he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“Mr. Low simply asks that the public keep an open mind regarding this case until all of the evidence comes to light, which he believes will vindicate him.”
The U.S. indictments alleged that Jho Low, Ng, Leissner and others conspired to misappropriate more than $2.7 billion (11.28 billion ringgit) from 1MBD, which was established in 2009 to fund Malaysian development programs.
The suspects “conspired to launder this money through the U.S. financial system to pay bribes to foreign officials and for the personal benefit of themselves and their relatives,” DOJ said in a news release announcing the indictments.
In recent months former Prime Minister Najb Razak, who started the fund in 2009, and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, have been arrested by authorities in their home country and charged with a raft of graft-related offenses linked with 1MDB.
In addition, the U.S. indictments refer to Malaysian Official No. 1 (MO1) and his wife “the Madam,” as having accepted payouts. MO1, who has been listed in previous U.S. documents, has been identified by sources as Najib.
Voters in May rejected Najib’s Barisan Nasional coalition, forcing him from the prime minister’s office.
On Friday, the new government led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad released its first federal budget – a 314.5 billion ringgit (U.S. $75.5 billion) spending plan for 2019, up from this year’s 290.4 billion ringgit ($69.7 billion) budget.
Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said one of the reasons for the increase was to pay off the major shortfall created by Najib’s government. The minister noted that the previous government had been paying off a portion of the 1MDB debt in the days leading up to the election.
“We have also confirmed that we may be liable to pay up to 43.9 billion ringgit ($10.5 billion) more, to settle all of 1MDB’s debts,” Lim said.
Mahathir said both countries wanted the fugitive to be captured.
“They would like to get Jho Low and put him on trial and of course Jho Low is nowhere to be seen. We do not know where he is,” Mahathir said. “We also would like to have him because we have several charges against him.”