By JACK STONE TRUITT, Nikkei staff writer

NEW YORK — Former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng was sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday for his role in the theft of billions of dollars from Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund.

“Roger Ng was a central player in a brazen and audacious scheme that not only victimized the people of Malaysia, but also risked undermining the public’s confidence in governments, markets, businesses and other institutions on a global scale,” Breon Peace, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement after the sentencing.

“Today’s sentence serves as a just punishment for the defendant’s crimes and a warning that there is a significant price to pay for corporate corruption,” he said.

Ng, the former head of investment banking for Goldman in Malaysia, was convicted last April on charges of conspiracy to violate U.S. anti-bribery laws, launder money and circumvent internal controls at Goldman.

Last week, Ng’s defense team asked the judge for no prison time and to allow him to return to his native Malaysia to face further charges. He had already served six months in a Malaysian prison and spent over four years under house arrest in New York after his extradition to the U.S. in November 2018.

Federal prosecutors had asked for a sentence of no less than 15 years.

At Goldman, Ng and his former boss Tim Leissner worked to raise $6.5 billion for 1MDB via bond sales in 2012 and 2013, allowing the bank to net $600 million in fees.

A jury had found Ng guilty of helping Leissner, the head of Southeast Asia for Goldman at the time, embezzle and launder money from 1MDB. He had conspired with Malaysian businessman Jho Low, a central figure in the fraud currently wanted by international authorities, to loot the sovereign wealth fund, the jury concluded.

Leissner pleaded guilty to charges for his role in the fraud, and was the government’s star witness during Ng’s trial last year. Ng’s defense team was primarily focused on discrediting the testimony of Leissner, calling him a “rare, cunning liar” who could not be trusted.

Last week Leissner, who awaits his own sentencing in September, was ordered by a federal judge to forfeit $43.7 million in cash and 3.3 million shares — worth nearly $300 million at the current share price — in the drink company Celsius Holdings as part of his guilty plea.

Ng is currently suing Leissner for $130 million in damages, claiming that he defrauded Ng out of an initial $1.25 million investment in Celsius.

1MDB was transformed from a ministate development fund to a sovereign wealth fund in 2009, the year former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak took office. The fund relied heavily on debt for its expansion, and its total borrowing, most of which was guaranteed by the government, ballooned from 5 billion ringgit ($1.2 billion) in 2009 to 50 billion ringgit in 2016.

Evidence emerged in 2015 that billions of dollars had been stolen from 1MDB in a sprawling embezzlement scheme, with the U.S. Department of Justice calling it the “largest kleptocracy case to date.”

Najib and Low have been implicated as key beneficiaries.

The scandal led to the fall of the Najib-led government in 2018, and the former prime minister was convicted in Malaysia in 2020 on seven counts of abuse of power, money laundering and criminal breach of trust. Najib’s appeals were dismissed last year, and he is currently serving a 12-year sentence.

On Tuesday, Malaysia’s top anti-corruption official said the country has recovered 28.9 billion ringgit ($6.5 billion), or roughly 70% of the assets and funds embezzled under 1MDB.

Last week the Malaysian government reached a $1.8 billion settlement with two Abu Dhabi state funds where executives have been accused of facilitating the looting from the fund.

The settlement follows the one reached between Malaysia and Goldman Sachs in 2020, in which the bank agreed to pay $2.5 billion in cash and see to the return of $1.4 billion in 1MDB assets. The two parties remain in dispute about the latter commitment.

The bank has admitted to violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and agreed to pay $2.9 billion to civil and criminal authorities in the U.S., Singapore and elsewhere, the largest penalty in history for a violation of the act.

The U.S. government said the corporate culture at Goldman’s Southeast Asia operations was “highly focused on consummating deals, at times prioritizing this goal ahead of the proper operation of its compliance function,” enabling Ng to circumvent internal oversight.

Ng denied responsibility for the fraud ahead of Thursday’s sentencing.

“My lawyers have also told me that a defendant must always only tell the truth. As such, I am. The only way to explain my actions, even so prior to the trial, is to share with your honor that I believe I am not guilty,” he said.