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1MDB is a nutty story. Here’s why

The former chairman of Goldman Sachs in Southeast Asia, Tim Leissner, pleaded guilty yesterday to FCPA and money laundering conspiracies in connection with a plot to loot the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Here are eight odd facts about the 1MDB investigation.

1. The alleged mastermind is a 36-year old fugitive.

Low Taek Jho a.k.a. Jho Low, pictured right, is a Malaysian who’s sought by U.S., Swiss, Singaporean, and Malaysian authorities. 

He may be traveling on a passport from the Caribbean islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis. 

Low has also supposedly been seen in Phuket, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Shanghai since the 1MDB scandal broke.

He was supposedly last seen in China, but local authorities deny he’s there. 

2. Spies are involved.

Eight former agents from Malaysia’s foreign intelligence agency were arrested in August for allegedly stealing $12 million in government funds possibly related to 1MDB.

The agents worked for the Malaysian External Intelligence Organization or MEIO.

3. Tim Leissner is married to fashion designer and reality TV star Kimora Lee Simmons.

Simmons’ television show, “Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane,” aired from 2007 to 2011 on the Style Network. This picture shows Leissner and Simmons with Malaysian ex-PM Najib Razak.

The picture was posted on Simmons’ Instagram (@kimoraleesimmons) on September 22, 2013.

She has 1.6 million followers on Instagram. 

4. Malaysia’s ex-PM Najib Razak and his wife have both been charged with laundering 1MDB money and their homes were raided.

The head of Malaysia’s commercial crime unit said the raids resulted in the “biggest seizure in Malaysian history.”

Police found cash in 26 currencies with a total value of $28.6 million.

They confiscated 457 handbags, including Hermes bags that alone are worth $12 million.

Also seized were 423 watches valued at $19 million, police said, along with 234 sunglasses worth $93,000.

Twelve thousand pieces of jewelry were found in 25 bags. Included were 1,400 necklaces, 2,200 rings, 2,100 bangles, 2,800 pairs of earrings, 1,600 brooches and 14 tiaras, police said. The jewelry could be worth around $180 million.

5. The DOJ thinks $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB.

In previous court filings, the DOJ alleged that more than $4.5 billion was looted from 1MDB from 2009 through 2015 “by high-level officials” of the fund and their associates. 

The DOJ has already filed forfeiture actions against nearly $1.7 billion in assets linked to 1MDB.

6. Money was laundered using art, real estate, and the Wolf of Wall Street.

The DOJ alleges that Low, Leissner, Roger Ng, and others conspired to launder money in the United States by buying “luxury residential real estate in New York City and elsewhere, and artwork from a New York-based auction house, and by funding major Hollywood films,” including the Wolf of Wall Street.

Red Granite Pictures, the company that produced the 2013 Scorsese film, was co-founded by Najib’s stepson.

Red Granite entered into a $60 million settlement with the DOJ in March.

7. Goldman Sachs made $600 million in fees from underwriting 1MDB bonds.

From the criminal information:

“In the course of the scheme, the defendant TIM LEISSNER, together with Co-Conspirator #1, Co-Conspirator #2 and others, did obtain and retain lMDB business for U.S. Financial Institution #1, including three bond offering transactions for lMDB in 2012 and 2013. These three bond offerings and related transactions ultimately earned U.S. Financial Institution #1 approximately $600 million in fees and revenue and resulted in LEISSNER, Co-Conspirator #2 and others obtaining large bonuses from U.S. Financial Institution #1 and enhanced their professional reputations at U.S. Financial Institution #1.”

“Although the stated purpose of the approximately $6.5 billion raised by the three bond transactions was to support lMDB projects for the benefit of the Malaysian people, more than $2.7 billion was instead misappropriated by the defendant TIM LEISSNER and his co-conspirators.”

8. Jho Low’s yacht is for sale.

The $250 million super yacht Equanimity was put up for auction by Malaysia this week. Indonesian authorities seized the yacht in Bali earlier this year. 

It sailed into Malaysia in August. 

The DOJ filed a civil forfeiture order for the Equanimity in 2017.

According to reports, The Equanimity costs over $730,000 a month to maintain.

Interested bidders need to put down a $1 million deposit to be considered. 


Harry Cassin is the managing editor of the FCPA Blog.

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