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OPINION

Leissner lays bare 1MDB lies

The trial of former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng over the 1MDB scandal has been filled with so much tawdry and tantalizing detail that it can be easy to overlook some of the less sensational, but nevertheless remarkable, material.

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It costs $150,000 (and a private jet) to get Leonardo DiCaprio to attend your birthday party, but Kim Kardashian only charges $50k
Reuters

The trial of former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng over the 1MDB scandal has been filled with so much tawdry and tantalizing detail that it can be easy to overlook some of the less sensational, but nevertheless remarkable, material.

An example is just how brazenly Ng and Tim Leissner, who has been giving testimony in Ng’s trial this week (February 16), lied to Goldman’s compliance departments about fugitive financierJho Low’s involvement.

At one stage Leissner told the trial about the first bond transaction Goldman ran for 1MDB, known internally as Magnolia, from which the bank earned $220 million.

He recalled speaking to then Asia head Michael Evans: “Mike asked me during Magnolia if Jho was involved and I lied outright and I said no.”

Had they ever told compliance about Low, he said, it would have scuppered the whole deal and others that followed it, “because had they known, it would’ve raised red flags and stopped any transaction at Goldman Sachs.”

Leissner said the two men used personal email accounts and phones, or just spoke in person, in order to avoid bank oversight. Goldman’s internal risk departments had refused to allow Low to be a client on several occasions.

Trial

One imagines this is maddening for Goldman, which is $5 billion poorer and unquantifiably damaged reputationally from the experience. But, then again, Leissner also says that people above him were quite aware of at least some of what he and Ng were doing. (Ng is defending himself against the charges; Leissner has pleaded guilty to charges, so Ng will be the only Goldman banker to go to trial.)

But back to the parties. The most entertaining testimony to date has come from Alex Cohen, the chief financial officer for an entertainment company called Strategic Group, which arranged parties for Low.

It is from Cohen that we learn of the $3.6 million invoices for a single party in Las Vegas, including 65 bottles of Cristal champagne; and that it costs $150,000 (and a private jet) to get Leonardo DiCaprio to attend your birthday party, but Kim Kardashian only charges $50k.

All of this, we remind you, is alleged to have been done with money Low took from 1MDB.