(Reuters) – Former Goldman Sachs Group Inc banker Roger Ng pleaded not guilty to criminal charges linked to a multibillion-dollar scandal at the Malaysian state investment fund 1MDB in an appearance at federal court in New York on Monday.
FILE PHOTO: Men walk past a 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) billboard at the fund’s flagship Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur March 1, 2015. REUTERS/Olivia Harris/File Photo
The U.S. Department of Justice accused 46-year-old Ng last year of conspiring to launder money and bribe government officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi through bond offerings that Goldman Sachs handled. He was extradited on May 3 to New York from Kuala Lumpur, where he had been jailed since November.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo, of U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York, allowed Ng, a Philippines citizen, to be released in exchange for a $20 million bond. He was fitted for an ankle bracelet, and will be staying at an undisclosed location in the New York City area that the court approved.
His lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, said he convinced Ng to “come to the U.S. and face the music” because it was evident that prosecutors were not going to drop the case, and his client had become very ill. Ng appears to have lost weight, based on photos of him before his arrest.
“He was in a very difficult situation,” Agnifilo told reporters. Being detained in New York “is better than a Malaysian jail,” he added.
Ng, who left Goldman Sachs in 2014, faces up to 30 years in prison if he is convicted of the three charges against him in the United States, based on alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Prosecutors and Ng’s lawyer are trying to negotiate a plea bargain. Government lawyers said they hope to avoid a trial by reaching a deal, though Agnifilo said it was too early to tell.
Malaysia’s home minister wanted Ng to face criminal charges there first, but agreed to temporarily surrender him to the United States for 10 months, Malaysia’s attorney general, Tommy Thomas, said in a statement.
“The period of temporary surrender may be extended upon mutual agreement by Malaysia and the U.S.,” Thomas added.
The 1MDB case has shaken Goldman Sachs, which is also being probed by the Justice Department for its role as underwriter and arranger for some $6.5 billion worth of 1MDB bond offerings.
Prosecutors estimate that high-level 1MDB fund officials and their associates misappropriated $4.5 billion between 2009 and 2014, including some of the funds that Goldman Sachs helped raise.
Goldman Sachs has consistently denied wrongdoing and said certain members of the former Malaysian government and 1MDB lied to it about how the bond proceeds would be used.
Ng was charged in Kuala Lumpur with four counts of abetting the bank to provide misleading statements in the offering prospectus for 1MDB bond sales.
Tim Leissner, another former Goldman Sachs banker, and Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho have also been charged in the United States over 1MDB. Leissner has pleaded guilty.
In a statement, Low’s spokesman Paul Caminiti criticized the Malaysian government for “inhumane prison conditions” and called its motivation with the United States politically motivated.
Low, whose whereabouts are unknown, has consistently denied wrongdoing through spokesmen.
Malaysia has said it was seeking up to $7.5 billion in reparations from Goldman over its dealings with 1MDB, set up in 2009 by then-Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Najib, who lost a general election last year, is facing 42 criminal charges related to losses at 1MDB and other state entities. He has pleaded not guilty.
Reporting by Elizabeth Dilts in Brooklyn, New York, and Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur; writing by Lauren Tara LaCapra; editing by Phil Berlowitz and Leslie Adler