KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian financier at the centre of a corruption scandal surrounding state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) maintained his innocence Friday (Nov 2) after the United States unveiled criminal charges against him and two ex-Goldman Sachs bankers.
Low Taek Jho, commonly known as Jho Low, and the former bankers were accused by the US Justice Department of conspiring to launder billions of dollars from the fund and bribing officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi.
Low allegedly played a central role in plundering 1MDB. He was an associate of Malaysia's former leader Najib Razak, whose government lost power in May in large part due to allegations that the then premier was involved in the vast fraud.
Since being ousted, Najib has been hit with a barrage of charges linked to the scandal.
A spokesman for 36-year-old Low, who held no official position at the fund but was believed to have huge influence over its workings, said that he "maintains his innocence.
"Mr Low held no formal position at 1MDB, nor was he ever employed by Goldman Sachs, or the governments of Malaysia or Abu Dhabi," the spokesman said.
"The US Department of Justice specifically states that the charges in the indictment are allegations, and that Mr Low is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
"Mr Low simply asks that the public keep an open mind regarding this case until all of the evidence comes to light, which he believes will vindicate him."
Low is still at large. His current whereabouts are unknown, although reports have suggested he is in China.
The indictments unsealed Thursday against him and ex-bankers Tim Leissner and Ng Chong Hwa were the first US criminal charges over the huge fraud, which has spawned investigations around the world.
Charges were filed in Malaysia in August against Low. Ng was arrested in Malaysia on Thursday, according to the DOJ. Leissner has already pleaded guilty and agreed to pay US$43.7 million in restitution of ill-gotten gains.
Goldman Sachs underwrote about US$6.5 billion in bonds issued by 1MDB, a sovereign wealth fund set up to help develop the country, according to the US government.
But more than US$2.7 billion went to kickbacks and bribes, according to the charges. Goldman Sachs garnered US$600 million in fees and revenues from three 1MDB bond transactions detailed in the indictments.
Low acted as an intermediary for 1MDB but the ex-Goldman bankers concealed his involvement in the bond offerings and repeatedly circumvented the bank's oversight tools for countering fraud, according to the charges.
The bank says it is cooperating in the probe.