(Bloomberg) — For a guy who isn’t on trial, Tim Leissner had a lot to confess.
The former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker spent 10 days on a witness stand in a Brooklyn courtroom this month admitting to a raft of lies — to his wives, to his bosses and to his business partners.
Leissner, 52, is the star witness in the US government’s case against Roger Ng, his former subordinate and the only Goldman Sachs employee to be brought to trial over billions of dollars that were looted from 1MDB. But the former Southeast Asia chairman for Goldman revealed that his involvement in 1MDB — a fund designed to help Malaysia’s people and economy — was far from his only transgression.
Under questioning from both the prosecution and defense, Leissner admitted to faking divorce documents, creating phony email accounts, marrying multiple women at once and keeping money that wasn’t his. Leissner pleaded guilty in 2018 for his role in 1MDB and agreed to forfeit $43.7 million. He’s testingifying in a bid to win leniency when he’s sentenced for his crimes — he faces as long as 25 years in prison.
There are still several weeks left in the trial, and prosecutors aren’t saying who they’ll call to testify, but much of the government’s case may hinge on Leissner’s credibility, veteran defense lawyers said.
Ng faces as much as 30 years in prison if convicted of the charges against him, which include conspiring with Leissner and financier Jho Low to bribe officials to win the lucrative 1MDB bond business. Malaysia’s former prime minister was found guilty of corruption by a court there while Low, who masterminded the scheme was charged by the US along with Ng and is a fugitive not in custody.
Leissner’s lawyer, Henry Mazurek, didn’t return a call and email seeking comment. Lawyers for Ng and for the prosecution also didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“The jury may consider that Leissner got a big break, that Low is the guy in the empty chair who should be on trial and Roger Ng is the empathetic fall guy for them all,” said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Florida.
New York defense lawyer Diane Ferrone said she’s had acquittals based on a bad cooperating witness.
“I’ve seen jurors conclude a cooperating witness is unbelievable and end up entirely ignoring them,” said Ferrone. “Here, Mr. Leissner appears to have engaged in such duplicitous behavior, separate and apart from the crimes charged –such as with his faking emails pretending to be his wife– that the jury could say, ‘we can’t believe this guy because he’s just trying to save himself.’”
Read More: Ex-Goldman Banker Faked His Ex-Wife’s Email to Spin Web of Lies
Leissner testified Ng played a central role in the fraud — Ng introduced him to Low and was present at key meetings when the fraud was discussed. The former banker, who admitted to taking $60 million in kickbacks from the Malaysian financier, said he paid Ng $35 million for his part in the scheme. Prosecutors have shown jurors emails they say are evidence Ng concealed Low’s role in 1MDB from Goldman and joined Leissner on outside side deals that were forbidden by the bank.
During questioning by prosecutors, Leissner explained why he’d pleaded guilty in 2018, saying, “I decided to take responsibility for what I was doing. It was the best course of action and the only one that allowed me to come clean.”
But Marc Agnifilo, Ng’s defense lawyer, is taking every opportunity to turn all of the attention on Leissner’s behavior, calling him “a rare cunning liar” who shaded the truth at every turn to get what he wanted. Agnifilo told jurors in opening statements that the former banker “got a pass” for his other misdeeds from the government after pleading guilty.
Read More: Leissner Was Key Goldman 1MDB Banker Not Ng, Defense Lawyer Says
Among other falsehoods, Agnifilo told jurors that Leissner was even cheating the men he says were his co-conspirators in the fraud. In court, he highlighted how Leissner said he’d kept $80 million of what Low sent to a Bahamas account under the banker’s control. The defense lawyer also showed letters Leissner wrote to a bank to get funding for a $15 million boat. Agnifilo suggested the letters included the forged signatures of Ng’s brother-in-law, who Leissner said had helped him on an unrelated side deal.
The lawyer also grilled Leissner about his handling of money which Ng and other colleagues gave him in 2015 to invest in an energy drink company called Celsius Holdings Inc. and an artificial intelligence company. Agnifilo said Ng gave him $1.5 million to put the money into the firms, but later claimed that investment as his own.
Agnifilo confronted Leissner with an email he sent Celsius an email saying he was putting in $500,000, saying the money “will be coming from my accountant Roger Ng.”
“Roger Ng was not your accountant, right?” Agnifilo asked Leissner.
“I don’t recall the context of it,” Leissner said, adding later, that he may have been trying “to disguise my relationship with Roger.”
“So one possibility is you’re lying?” Agnifilo asked.
“Right,” Leissner responded.
Ng’s defense team was also eager to raise questions about any perceived inconsistencies in Leissner’s version of events, which have depicted Ng playing a crucial role in the 1MDB fraud and concealing Low’s involvement in the transactions from Goldman.
Leissner testified that at a 2012 meeting at Jho Low’s London home, Low drew a chart of Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials who would be bribed as part of the scheme to siphon billions of dollars from the fund.
During his cross-examination, Agnifilo pointed out that after Leissner was arrested in June 2018, he never mentioned that Low had drafted a chart and only first mentioned it to FBI agents last year.
“I don’t remember when I first brought up the chart,” Leissner responded. “The chart existed. When I brought it up, I don’t know.”
Agnifilo’s grilling of Leissner may resonate with jurors, Ferrone said.
“If he was able to demonstrate that Mr. Leissner is capable of real fraud, a jury may have a hard time believing him when he tries to make is seem that someone else, like the defendant, was pulling the strings. It’s because he’s shown he’s capable of receiving on a very high level.”
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