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U.S. prosecutors unveiled criminal charges on Thursday against two former Goldman Sachs Inc bankers and Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho tied to the Malaysia 1MDB sovereign wealth fund scandal.

The Justice Department also says another former Goldman Sachs banker, Tim Leissner, has pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money and violate anti-bribery laws.

An estimated $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials of the fund and their associates between 2009 and 2014, the U.S. Justice Department has alleged. Low, who previously said he did consulting work for 1MDB, is portrayed by some global investigators as the mastermind behind some of the schemes involving missing funds.

The unidentified co-conspirator is Andrea Vella, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The 1MDB scandal has roiled politics in Malaysia, leading to criminal charges against former Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The alleged misappropriation of billions of dollars from the 1MDB fund has become the focus of an global scandal reaching from Malaysia to the United States to Hong Kong.

The U.S. Justice Department alleges there were four phases to the conspiracy that all involved the use of layers of foreign bank accounts and shell companies to launder the money.

Ng, who reported to Leissner at Goldman, was arrested early Thursday in Malaysia.

Charges were filed against Low and another Malaysian Roger Ng Chong Hwa in NY yesterday.

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Some of those allegations were described in civil forfeiture complaints filed by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles a year ago.

An attorney for Najib, Shafee Abdullah, dismissed the latest charges as "foolish".

At least six countries, including Malaysia, the United States and Switzerland, have been investigating alleged thefts from 1MDB. Working with the FBI, Indonesian authorities seized Low's $250 million luxury yacht Equanimity off Bali in February and Malaysia's government is now auctioning it.

As part of the three-count indictment, Ng is also charged with conspiring to violate the FCPA by circumventing the internal accounting controls of a major New York-headquartered financial institution (Financial Institution), which underwrote more than US$6 billion (RM25 billion) in bonds issued by 1MDB in three separate bond offerings in 2012 and 2013, while Ng was employed at the Financial Institution as a managing director. The firm has said it was co-operating with the investigation.

Low, Ng and Leissner are the first individuals to be charged in the United States in relation to the scandal at 1MDB.

Goldman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Low did not have an immediate comment.

Ng was formerly managing director at 1MDB. It was not known who was representing Mr. Ng.

The transactions were structured as bond deals "rather than other forms of financing, because doing so generated much higher revenues and fees for (Goldman Sachs), improved the bank's reputational standing in both the Southeast Asian region and globally and provided Leissner and other bankers with increased remuneration and professional prestige, even though the bond financing was more expensive for 1MDB", the DOJ said in the criminal information document.


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