The bizarre story of the Goldman Sachs 1MDB Malaysia fund scandal now has a Trump link

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Paramount Pictures

  • 1MDB is one of the biggest financial scandals of all-time.
  • It has now emerged that the US Justice Department is allegedly probing a $100,000 donation to Trump’s Victory PAC in 2017 may have come from funds linked to disgraced Malaysian financier Jho Low.
  • Similarly, Tim Leissner, a top regional executive of Goldman Sachs, was recently banned from the banking industry by the Federal Reserve for his role in the scandal.
  • We broke down all the major events for you that stretched all the way back to 2009.

The crazy story of 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) has branched out to the 2020 US presidential election with the US Justice Department allegedly looking into the source of funds donated to a Trump PAC.

The DOJ is allegedly probing a $100,000 donation to President Trump’s Victory PAC in 2017, which may have come from funds linked to disgraced Malaysian financier Jho Low, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Low, believed to be currently on the run somewhere in China, is the Malaysian financier believed to be at the heart of the 1MDB scandal. 1MDB started out as a government plan to fund infrastructure projects in Malaysia but turned into an alleged swindle to tune of more than $3 billion.

The donation was made in December 2017 by Larry Davis, co-owner of LNS Capital, as part of a campaign to re-elect Trump in 2020. The DOJ is trying to establish whether $1.5 million transferred to LNS Capital seven months earlier by Low were used to finance the donation, the WSJ said.

It’s one of the greatest scandals in financial history. It brought down Malaysia’s prime minister, the prime suspect is still on the run, and Goldman Sachs might be on the hook for crushing fines.

US and Malaysian authorities, as well as those in the UK, Australia and Singapore, among others, are continuing to figure out just what happened, and who is responsible. Malaysia has filed criminal charges for Goldman Sachs and a few ex-bank and fund employees, while lawsuits are still being filed over billions in missing cash. Goldman Sachs says it is cooperating with authorities and will contest the charges.

The 1MDB scandal also managed to embroil actor Leonardo DiCaprio, model Miranda Kerr, and even the estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat got dragged into the mess, too.

This is the history of 1MDB and the characters that made it:


1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, was founded in 2009 just four months after Najib Razak became Prime Minister of Malaysia. Ensnared in the scandal, he later lost reelection and was charged with abuse of power and criminal breach of trust in relation to SRC International, a former 1MDB unit. Najib pleaded not guilty charges and has consistently denied any wrongdoing in relation to 1MDB.

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Former Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak
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REUTERS/Olivia Harris


The fund was originally set up to finance infrastructure and other economy-linked deals in Malaysia. But the fund veered into lavish spending, producing films such as “The Wolf of Wall Street” and buying casinos, champagne and “Dustheads,” a painting by US artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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Paramount Pictures

Source: Reuters


An estimated $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB by high-level officials and their associates between 2009 and 2014, the US Department of Justice has alleged. Razak has consistently denied wrongdoing. The scandal spreads across a number of companies and financial institutions with eye-watering sums involved.

Source: DOJ


In 2012, officials from 1MDB met with Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong to discuss a bond deal which would eventually lead to mega fees for the bank (and now, potentially, mega fines). Goldman raised $6.5 billion for the fund. Malaysia’s government said it will seek “well in excess” of the $2.7 billion it says was misappropriated, as well as the $600 million Goldman earned in fees.

Source: WSJ


Between 2012 and 2013, Goldman arranged three bonds worth $6.5 billion for 1MDB with fees totalling $593 million, or 9% of the total, higher than the average fees paid on such deals, according to critics.Malaysian prosecutors say that Goldman Sachs made untrue statements and omitted key facts in offering circulars for the bonds it sold for Malaysian state fund 1MDB.

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Andres Nordgreen Fierro

Sources: Reuters, Reuters


Goldman denied the allegations, telling Business Insider: “Certain members of the former Malaysian government and 1MDB lied to Goldman Sachs, outside counsel and others about the use of proceeds from these transactions. 1MDB, whose CEO and Board reported directly to the Prime Minister at the time, also provided written assurances to Goldman Sachs for each transaction that no intermediaries were involved. Under the Malaysian legal process, the firm was not afforded an opportunity to be heard prior to the filing of these charges against certain Goldman Sachs entities, which we intend to vigorously contest. These charges do not affect our ability to conduct our current business globally.”

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Goldman Sachs Group chairman and CEO David Solomon.
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Goldman Sachs

In 2013, 1MDB raised eyebrows after it asked for a six-month extension to file its annual report. The company had changed its auditors on three occasions at this point, furthering suspicions. It was also alleged that 1MDB had placed $3.8 billion of its money with overseas fund managers according to accounts signed off by Deloitte.

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Men walk past a 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) billboard at the fund’s flagship Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur
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retoncy/Shutterstock

Source: The Star


Questions arose about the fund’s transparency and performance as early as 2010. But international exposure became more pronounced in 2015, when 1MDB’s bonds, then worth around $12 billion, were downgraded to junk status by ratings agencies Standard and Poor’s and Fitch.

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Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak.
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REUTERS/Edgar Su

Source: Malay Mail


In February 2016, the US FBI began probing the connection between Tim Leissner, a top regional executive of Goldman Sachs, with former Prime Minister Najib Razak. Leissner has since pleaded guilty in the US to conspiracy relating to money laundering and bribery. It’s alleged that Leissner had a cozy relationship with Malaysian officials and may have used bribes to further Goldman’s business in the country.

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Tim Leissner and his wife, Kimora Lee Simmons, in 2014.
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Araya Diaz/Getty

Sources: FT, DOJ


Leissner, the former Goldman executive, has been charged with money laundering and corruption by the Malaysian government alongside former 1MDB employee Jasmine Loo Ai Swan and Jho Low. Low is the Malaysian financier believed to be at the heart of the scandal. Another former Goldman executive, Roger Ng, was also charged with corruption and money laundering in Malaysia. Leissner is reportedly cooperating with US authorities. Low is believed to be currently on the run somewhere in China.

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Gigi Hadid and Jho Low in 2014
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(Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation)

One of the peculiarities of the 1MDB scandal was the role played by young Malaysian financier, Jho Low. Legal documents filed in the US paint a picture of a spectacular fraud. They claim that Low diverted millions in investment money to fund a lavish lifestyle of yachts, parties, jewelry, and celebrities. At another point, Low dated the model Miranda Kerr, who was later required to return jewelry he gave her.

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Miranda Kerr
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Getty

Source: Business Insider


Last month, an Abu Dhabi wealth fund called International Petroleum Investment Corporation, and its subsidiary, Aabar Investments, sued Goldman Sachs in New York over money lost as part of the scandal in 2015. The civil action by IPIC, a former partner of 1MDB, claims that Goldman and others “played a central role in a long-running effort to corrupt former executives of IPIC and its subsidiary Aabar Investments, and mislead IPIC and Aabar.” IPIC said the scandal was “a massive, international conspiracy to embezzle billions of dollars.” Goldman said it will contest the claims “vigorously.”

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Pixabay

In 2015, billions of dollars of loans issued by 1MDB, arranged by Goldman Sachs, were guaranteed by IPIC. IPIC claimed the fund defaulted on $1.1 billion in repayments in 2016 and Malaysia’s then-government agreed to pay the UAE investment fund, a settlement which has since been challenged by the country’s new government.

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LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 26: (L-R) Producer Swizz Beatz, recording artist Alicia Keys and Owner, EMI Music Publishing and Chairman EMI Music Publishing Asia Jho Low attend the 56th GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on January 26, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.
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(Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS)

Source: Business Insider


The scandal has touched the top of both Goldman and the country’s government: Before the debut of the fund, former Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein reportedly met with both the Malaysian prime minister at the time and Jho Low. Goldman’s stock is suffering amid fears by some analysts that the bank may have to pay billions in fines.

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Former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein
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Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


In May 2018, a surprise Malaysian election result saw the ruling party ejected for the first time since independence in 1957. Razak was removed from power and a special position audit was ordered into 1MDB by the new coalition and will be conducted PriceWaterhouse Coopers.

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Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives at a presentation for government interns at the Prime Minster’s office in Putrajaya, Malaysia
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Thomson Reuters

Source: Quartz


Malaysia’s ruling coalition faces up to $10.5 billion in debt repayments linked to the state investment fund and is grappling with a weak fiscal position, having revised the 2018 fiscal deficit from 2.8% to 3.7% in the latest budget issued in early November. The country has cancelled major infrastructure projects including two oil and gas pipelines and a $795 million pipeline linking the state of Malacca to a Petronas refinery and petrochemical plant in the state of Johor in order to balance its books.

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Flickr Creative Commons/Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi

Sources: FT, FT


Roger Ng will return to the US to face criminal charges against him, his lawyer said on Thursday. Ng, who left Goldman in 2014, has been detained in Kuala Lumpur since Nov. 1. Malaysia’s new government has also charged Ng and former Goldman executive Tim Leissner with corruption, money laundering, and violating anti-bribery laws. Singapore’s central bank and the Federal Reserve have banned Leissner from the banking industry.

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Reuters

Sources: CNBC, FT