1MDB: After ex-Goldman banker’s US conviction, Malaysians foresee no justice at home

Suganya Lingan and Nisha David
2022.04.12
Kuala Lumpur
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1MDB: After ex-Goldman banker’s US conviction, Malaysians foresee no justice at home A man walks past a 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) billboard at the fund’s flagship Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur, March 1, 2015.
[Reuters]

Malaysians have scant hope that perpetrators of the multibillion-dollar 1MDB financial scandal will be brought to justice in their country in the way that a compatriot and key player in the affair was convicted in a U.S. court last week.

Some Malaysians haven’t even heard of former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng but, having been told he was found guilty of looting from the sovereign fund, they wish that those involved at home would also be held to account.

Last Friday, Ng was convicted on all charges that tied him to the scheme to steal billions from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund, a scandal that implicated then-Prime Minister Najib Razak and brought down his government four years ago.

“Malaysians will never get the justice we deserve,” said 38-year-old Desiree Gasper, a Kuala Lumpur-based producer with a local television station.

“Perhaps it’s because I don’t believe we will ever get back the money. At least not all of it. Najib is still in power and affluent, Jho Low is still out there somewhere,” she told BenarNews.

She was referring to the ex-prime minister, who remains an influential figure in the UMNO party, which is back in power at the national level, and Najib’s once close associate, fugitive financier Low Taek Jho (also known as Jho Low).

In July 2020, Najib was convicted of money laundering and abuse of power in a case related to a 1MDB subsidiary and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He has appealed the conviction and sentence before the Supreme Court, and is awaiting a decision. Separately, Najib is standing trial in numerous other 1MDB cases.

Low, the subject of an international manhunt, faces criminal charges in Malaysia and the United States for his alleged role in embezzling billions of dollars from 1MDB through his relationship with Najib.

Danial Hassan, a 28-year-old executive, is disenchanted with Malaysia’s political elite.

“So much has happened since 1MDB and I think most young Malaysians like me don’t have very high hopes when it comes to the political situation in the country or seeing justice when it comes to the elite class,” he told BenarNews.

Ahmad Akbel Ali, a member of an older generation, admitted that he was clueless about Ng.

“I have no idea about him. Corruption is everywhere and what is there to comment [about]?” the retiree from Perak state told BenarNews.

“To me, the bread-and-butter issue is more important and I will be more interested if it was Najib who got arrested.”

Markandan, 59, a retiree from Ipoh, said he read about Roger Ng verdict but has little understanding of the case.

“I follow Najib’s case and I understand it better. I am frustrated that Malaysia is becoming famous abroad because of corruption,” told BenarNews.

“The 1MDB money should have been used to develop the country but what we can see now with 1MDB is that, people’s money is being wasted.”

MY-pic2.jpg

Former Goldman Sachs executive Roger Ng (right) leaves federal court in New York, April 8, 2022. A U.S. jury convicted Ng on all counts in $4.5 billion scheme to loot Malaysian fund 1MDB. [AP Photo]

Breon Peace, a U.S. attorney, echoed the Malaysian pensioner’s statement moments after Ng was found guilty in a verdict handed down at a federal courthouse in Brooklyn. N.Y.

“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,” he said.

1MDB raised billions of dollars for investment projects between 2009 and 2013, the Reuters news agency reported. Goldman Sachs helped raise some of this money.

Malaysian and U.S. prosecutors allege that at least $4.5 billion (18.8 billion ringgit), was stolen from 1MDB and diverted through acquisitions of real estate, artwork and luxury properties by Najib and his associates, including Jho Low.

‘Scam really did happen’

For James Chin, a political analyst and professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania, the conviction of Ng shows that the 1MDB swindle did in fact occur.

“In terms of Roger Ng’s conviction, I think this is a very clear indication that the scam really did happen and this is just another confirmation we have that Jho Low, Najib and everybody else were intimately involved in this case and that billions were stolen,” he told BenarNews.

“I think that the rest of the world will see this as a defining moment for Malaysia and if Najib gets away with it in the Malaysian courts, I think this will impact Malaysia’s reputation for many years to come.”

Many courtroom revelations made by Ng and another Goldman Sachs banker implicated in the scandal, Tim Leissner, have not been revealed in the cases tried in Malaysia, making ordinary Malaysians question the local judiciary system, according to Chin.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Monday urged the government to “haul up” everyone involved in the 1MDB scandal and take them to the Malaysian courts to face justice.

“The sworn statements by witnesses have overall dismissed the claims by Malaysian government officials that nothing had happened in … 1MDB. Senior Goldman Sachs officials involved in the 1MDB scandal cannot escape their negligence as well as the damage and losses caused to Malaysia,” Anwar said in a statement.

“On Goldman Sachs’ apparent involvement in this ‘scam,’ I reiterate my position that the settlement reached between the Malaysian government and Goldman Sachs in 2020 was premature and failed to consider the losses that Malaysians will continue to bear,” he added.

In October 2020, Goldman Sachs and its Malaysian subsidiary agreed to pay the Malaysian government more than $2.9 billion (12.2 billion ringgit) after pleading guilty to conspiring to violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) when raising money for 1MDB.

Money laundering, bribery, conspiracy and misuse of power are only some of the charges faced by those involved in the scandal, including Najib.

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