Tim Leissner, in unsealed 1MDB plea, cites Goldman Sachs 'culture' of secrecy

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) – Goldman Sachs’s former top banker in Asia says the culture of secrecy at the investment bank led him to conceal wrongdoing from the company’s compliance staff.

Now, Tim Leissner is in a position to help prosecutors peel back the curtain.

In his guilty plea, which was unsealed on Friday (Nov 10), Leissner said others at the bank helped him conceal bribes used to retain business in Malaysia, suggesting he has more to offer prosecutors.

The heavily redacted transcript doesn’t indicate whether he is cooperating with authorities. But the judge warned him that under federal sentencing guidelines he faces decades in prison. Providing useful information to prosecutors might help Leissner get a more lenient sentence.

Leissner’s Aug 28 statement to the judge may give prosecutors more leverage to go after the bank, and other executives, for their roles in raising US$6.5 billion (S$9 billion) for the Malaysian fund, 1MDB. Prosecutors say more than US$4 billion was siphoned off by friends and family of the nation’s prime minister, among others.

“I conspired with other employees and agents of Goldman Sachs very much in line of its culture of Goldman Sachs to conceal facts from certain compliance and legal employees of Goldman Sachs,” Leissner said.

Mr Michael DuVally, a spokesman for Goldman, didn’t have an immediate comment. The bank has said it believed proceeds of debt sales it underwrote were for development projects and that Leissner withheld information from the firm.

In his plea, Leissner acknowledged lying to compliance officials at Goldman about the role in the fund played by Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, the alleged mastermind of the fraud.

“I knew that concealing Jho Low’s involvement as an intermediary was contrary to Goldman Sachs’s stated internal policies and procedures,” he said. “I and several other employees of Goldman Sachs at the time also concealed that we knew that Jho Low was promising and paying bribes and kickbacks to foreign officials to obtain and retain 1MDB business for Goldman Sachs, for the benefit of Goldman Sachs and myself.”

Goldman has been under scrutiny for years over its role in raising money for 1MDB and for the fees it earned – about US$600 million.

1MDB is at the centre of a global scandal involving claims of embezzlement and money laundering, which have triggered investigations in the US, Singapore, Switzerland and beyond and helped drive Malaysia’s former leader from power.

In 2015, after the scandal spilled into public view, Goldman began investigating Leissner and eventually suspended him. He left the following year. Goldman’s lawyers scoured Leissner’s records and provided evidence to prosecutors that he deceived them, not only in lying about his management of the Malaysian fund raising, but in other unrelated matters, people familiar with the matter have said.

Charges against Leissner, Low and Goldman banker Roger Ng were unsealed in the US this month.

Leissner had secretly pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act at the August hearing. He’s free on US$20 million bail.

Leissner told the judge he took part in the money laundering, bribery and kickbacks from 2009 to 2014 in an effort to acquire and execute the “strategic” 1MDB transaction to benefit himself and Goldman. He said the goal was to influence Malaysian officials so that Goldman would get 1MDB’s business.

Goldman has told prosecutors its comprehensive review of Leissner’s conduct determined that the German-born investment banker violated its internal policies by failing to disclose business investments, including a US$1 million stake in an African energy company, Signet Petroleum, and a 2 million euro (S$3 million) stake in a German insurance start-up, Friendsurance, according to two people familiar with the matter.

In early 2016, shortly after the first public reports of wrongdoing at 1MDB, the bank said it discovered that Leissner had written a letter of recommendation for Jho Low – falsely claiming, the bank says, that Goldman had done due diligence on Low’s family wealth and approved him as a client with no regulatory concerns.

In fact, Goldman had rejected Low as a private wealth management client on several occasions.

Ng was arrested in Malaysia last week at the request of US authorities. He’s filing an application to review the US detention and extradition order, said people familiar with the case, who asked not to be identified as the deliberations are private.

Separately, Ng and his family have agreed to surrender about S$40 million to authorities in neighbouring Singapore, which would then repatriate the funds to Malaysia, the people said.

According to federal filings, Low was closely involved in helping Goldman Sachs win the Malaysian business even as Leissner and others were already working to shield his role from its compliance group.

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Singapore Tourism Board event in Jakarta attracts hundreds of millennials

JAKARTA – The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is out to interest millennials in Indonesia in visiting Singapore.

Sneakers, streetwear, music and dance shows were on offer on Friday (Nov 9) at the start of a three-day event in Jakarta organised by STB. The event also featured trailers of YouTube short films about trips to Singapore by young Indonesian visitors with different passions.

At least 300 visitors, mostly alerted to the event by invites on social media, started queuing outside a function room at a Jakarta shopping mall, two to three hours before it opened its doors on Friday.

“I arrived outside 8.30am and we were allowed in at about 11.30am. I am here first of all because of the sneaker event. The Singapore tourism part is a bonus worth checking out as well,” college student, Mr Belva Fulvian, told The Straits Times.

The weekend event is part of STB’s campaign to introduce the Passion Made Possible brand that was launched last year.

Passion Made Possible is the brand used by STB to market Singapore internationally for tourism purposes. The brand targets tourists based on their lifestyle and travel interests, categorising them into “tribes” such as foodies and explorers.

STB’s three episodes of short films about Indonesian visitors to Singapore, which will be released from Nov 28, will offer touching stories, noted Mr Raymond Lim, area director of STB Indonesia.

“Our brand is about story-telling, about telling people the passions that they have, they can fulfil them in Singapore,” said Mr Lim, adding that one of the films is about a young woman who must choose between her boyfriend and pursuing her passions. She then takes a trip to Singapore, where she gets in touch with her true self and learns about following her dreams.

Every year, about three million Indonesians visit Singapore, the second largest foreign visitor group after those from China. The third largest group is from India.

Mr Lim said the majority of foreign visitors to Singapore are families with children.

“But we are also seeing that the people coming to Singapore are getting younger. We need to start talking to younger people,” he said, referring to those who have just started to work.

On whether the weakening rupiah against the Singapore dollar has had any impact on Indonesian tourist arrivals, Mr Lim said arrival numbers for January to September this year are growing by about 3.6 per cent compared with the same period last year.

“That itself shows resilience. There would definitely be impact but we are happy we are still seeing growth,” he added.

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Don't get scammed while shopping online on Singles' Day, Black Friday: Police, SingCERT

SINGAPORE – Those hoping to have an online shopping spree on Black Friday and Singles’ Day should be careful not to get scammed, the authorities have warned.

In a statement on Saturday morning (Nov 10), the police said that scammers look to cheat victims eager to take advantage of big discounts.

Singles’ Day, falling on Nov 11 (also known as 11.11), is a 24-hour multibillion-dollar sales event that popular online retailers like Taobao, Zalora, and Amazon typically take part in.

Black Friday, originally a US shopping promotion, is on Nov 23.

In a separate statement, the Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team (SingCERT) also warned against a variety of scams with the coming holiday season and series of promotions, including Cyber Monday and Thanksgiving.

These include phishing websites and e-mails, and scams involving impersonation, greeting cards, travel, and text messages.

“Such scams are popularly employed by hackers who lure shoppers with too-good-to-be-true discounts to entice them to click on links and complete their transactions on fraudulent websites,” it said.

In its statement, the police added that they received more than 1,800 reports of e-commerce scams involving $1.5 million cheated between January and September.

“Victims typically fell prey to bogus offers that were advertised on online platforms like Carousell. Items were not received after payments were made,” it said.

The police advised members of the public to refrain from being impulsive, and to be wary of online advertisements with overly cheap prices.

It also warned against making advance payments and said that scammers may use local bank accounts or identification document to make themselves seem legitimate.

SingCERT also advised against using public Wi-Fi networks for financial transactions, and to avoid clicking on links in promotional e-mails or text messages.

Instead, one should visit the official website by typing its address into a web browser, and check if the website has a “lock” icon in the address bar.

This indicates that the site is legitimate and trustworthy as it has a Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL certificate which enables encryption.

More information can be found at 1800-722-6688 or www.scamalert.sg . Those wishing to report scams may do so at 1800-255-0000 or www.police.gov.sg/iwitness.

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White House adviser Navarro says Wall Street should stay out of U.S.-China trade talks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House adviser Peter Navarro on Friday sharply criticized efforts by current and former Wall Street executives to urge the United States and China to resolve their trade dispute, calling them “unregistered foreign agents” who were trying to pressure President Donald Trump into a deal.

“When these unpaid foreign agents engage in this kind of diplomacy, so-called diplomacy, all they do is weaken this president and his negotiating position. No good can come of this. If there is a deal, if and when there is a deal, it will be on President Donald J. Trump’s terms, not Wall Street terms,” Navarro said in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

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Scoot flight to Berlin delayed 10 hours due to technical defect, replacement aircraft assigned

SINGAPORE – Passengers on a Scoot flight departing Singapore for Berlin were stranded for more than 10 hours on Friday morning (Nov 9) as technical difficulties prevented the plane from taking off.

Flight TR734 was scheduled to depart Changi Airport at 1.10am on Friday morning, but only took off at 11.55am.

The flight is scheduled to land at Berlin Tegel Airport at 5.24pm (Berlin time), according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.

When contacted by The Straits Times, Scoot said that a technical issue was detected from the aircraft’s spoilers.

“Due to operational restrictions imposed by the technical defect, a replacement aircraft was assigned,” Scoot said in a statement.

A new set of crew was activated for the delayed flight to ensure flight time limits were observed, Scoot added.

One passenger, Facebook user Vedran Capro P, wrote that passengers had to board and disembark the plane twice, first due to technical problems and second due to the crew changeover.

“Communication of the incident was not straightforward and we were mostly kept in the dark,” the Facebook user said.

Scoot said that passengers were provided with meals and refreshments during the delay, and apologised for the inconvenience caused to passengers.

“Safety is critical and Scoot will always ensure that this is utmost in our considerations,” the airline added.

The first Singapore-Berlin flight was launched on June 20 this year and is operated four times a week. The route takes 12 hours 30 minutes from Singapore to Berlin, and 13 hours for the return.

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U.S. OPIC signs $100 million loan deal with Africell

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – African telecoms firm Africell on Friday signed a $100 million loan agreement to fund an expansion of its communications infrastructure with U.S. development financier the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).

The deal was signed on the sidelines of the African Development Bank’s Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg, and forms part of the OPIC’s $1 billion investment in African infrastructure and technology launched earlier in 2018.

Africell’s chief investment officer Ian Paterson told journalists at the signing of the deal that the financing would be used in the markets where the company is already operating rather than expansion into new markets.

“We will be looking to invest the proceeds to expand our networks, develop new products and services, really using the platform of customers we have today and trying to layer on more value added services to them,” he said.

Africell boasts 12 million customers in Sierra Leone, Gambia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

Mobile network access, and particularly increasing data penetration, has had a huge impact in underdeveloped African countries where services like mobile money and microlending have boosted financial inclusion among the unbanked.

“The developmental impacts that having data connectivity and data access does for communities is transformational,” said Worku Gachou, OPIC’s managing director for Africa.

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European shares dip as Fed saps post U.S. midterms rally

LONDON (Reuters) – European shares dipped at the open on Friday, joining a global market retreat that spread from Wall Street to Asian markets after the Federal Reserve noted a dip in U.S. business investment and suggested a rate hike was on track for December.

A number of disappointing corporate earnings also weighed on morale, as Germany’s Thyssenkrupp fell to its lowest levels since July 2016 after cutting its profit outlook for the second time this year.

The pan-European STOXX 600 was down 0.5 percent at 0817 GMT, while the leading index of euro zone stocks .STOXX50E was falling at roughly the same pace.

All European bourses and most sectors were in negative territory with Germany’s DAX .GDAXI down 0.6 percent and France’s CAC 40 .FCHI losing 0.7 percent.

The energy sector also acted as a drag with oil majors weighing on indexes as rising supply and concerns of an economic slowdown pressured prices, with U.S. crude down by around 20 percent since early October.

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K-Pop Band BTS Is Dropped From Japanese TV Show Over T-Shirt

HONG KONG — They have been called the world’s biggest boy band, and they were even recently enlisted to speak at the United Nations — the first K-pop group ever given such an honor.

But proving that even world-famous pop groups are not immune to political tensions, a Japanese television station abruptly canceled a live performance by the chart-topping South Korean band, BTS, on Thursday amid an uproar over a T-shirt once worn by one of the band’s members.

The T-shirt featured the well-known historical image of a billowing mushroom cloud rising over the Japanese city of Nagasaki, and some said it glorified the Americans’ use of atomic bombs against Japan at the end of World War II.

“After we talked to the band’s agency about the member’s intention in wearing the T-shirt, we have regrettably decided to call off their performance at this time,” read a statement posted on the website of Music Station, a program on the Japanese television network TV Asahi.

In a statement on its official website, BTS, also known as Bangtan Boys, apologized to fans for the cancellation, though they did not mention the T-shirt.

The article of clothing in question was said to have been worn by Jimin, 23, one of the band’s seven members, in a 2017 episode of the group’s reality television show, “BTS: Bon Voyage.” The T-shirt shows the mushroom cloud over Nagasaki just moments after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city on Aug. 9, 1945, instantly killing more than 70,000 civilians.

A block of repeating text printed on the T-shirt alongside the image reads: “PATRIOTISM OUR HISTORY LIBERATION KOREA.”

The incident tapped into the deep well of resentment that still roils relations between the two countries, more than seven decades after Imperial Japan’s defeat in World War II liberated the Korean Peninsula from Japanese colonial rule (it was subsequently divided into North and South Korea). Aug. 15 is still commemorated annually by both North and South Korea as Victory Over Japan Day.

Those historical tensions flared up last month when a South Korean court ordered a leading Japanese steel maker to compensate Korean men who were slave laborers during World War II.

Relations between the two countries remain strained by other wartime legacies, like the Korean “comfort women” who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels. Many South Koreans say Japan’s apologies and reparations over that issue have not been sufficient.

The T-shirt incident was a small but embarrassing setback for BTS, which has seen overwhelming success in recent years with its ever-changing rotation of hair colors and musical influences. This year, the band was not only the first K-pop band to reach the top spot on the Billboard Artist 100 Chart, it did so twice in the span of a few months.

In August, BTS broke Taylor Swift’s record for biggest YouTube video debut, racking up 45 million views for their video “Idol” in just 24 hours. In October, they finished off the North American leg of their “Love Yourself” world tour with a sold-out performance to a crowd of about 40,000 at Citi Field in New York City.

The band has waded into potentially taboo topics before, and members have been particularly outspoken about their support for gay rights.

But back home, relations between their native country and Japan have been something of a political minefield. In September, Korean fans lashed out at the band’s management agency, Big Hit Entertainment, after reports emerged about BTS’s plans to release a Japanese-language single written by the prominent Japanese producer Yasushi Akimoto.

Known for creating the popular Japanese girl band AKB48, Mr. Akimoto had angered Korean fans in the past by featuring the rising sun flag — seen by many as a painful symbol of Japanese imperialism — in some of AKB48’s costumes. As a result of the backlash, BTS removed the single, titled “Bird,” from its latest Japanese album, which was released on Wednesday.

According to South Korean media, the designer of the T-shirt for the Korean street fashion brand Ourhistory has apologized, saying he did not intend for the design to be construed as anti-Japanese.

Despite the outcry in Japan, the group’s many die-hard fans, who are known as the Army, seemed undeterred. On Friday, the band’s newly released single “Fake Love/Airplane Pt. 2” remained at the top of the Japanese music singles chart, according to Oricon, a Japanese music statistics website.

Makiko Inoue and Hisako Ueno contributed reporting from Tokyo. Su-Hyun Lee contributed reporting from Seoul, South Korea.

Follow Amy Qin on Twitter: @amyyqin.

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Tourist spending down 1.7% in second quarter despite 8% increase in visitor arrivals: STB

SINGAPORE – Overall tourism spending in the second quarter of 2018 declined 1.7 per cent to $6.6 billion, compared to the same period last year.

This was despite some 4.6 million visitors arriving in Singapore between April and June 2018, an 8 per cent increase on the same period last year, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) revealed in its quarterly report on Friday (Nov 9).

The dip in tourism spending was attributed to lower spending in areas like shopping (-22 per cent), food and beverage (-15 per cent) and sightseeing, entertainment and gaming (-2 per cent).

However, tourism spending grew for accommodation (6 per cent) and a miscellaneous category that includes expenditure on airfares on Singapore-based carriers, port taxes, local transportation, business, medical and education services (20 per cent).

Miscellaneous spending increased to an estimated $1.8 billion, accounting for the largest share of tourist spending.

Meanwhile, gazetted hotel room revenue for the second quarter grew by 9.4 per cent year on year to reach $1 billion, while the revenue per available room increased by 3.1 per cent year on year to $181 due to higher average room and occupancy rates.

The increase in visitor arrivals was highest for the month of June, when Singapore hosted the meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Visitor arrivals increased 11.3 per cent to 1.54 million that month compared to the same period last year, STB said in September.

China, Indonesia and India remained the biggest source of visitors and spending in the second quarter.

Excluding sightseeing, entertainment and gaming spending, Chinese visitors spent $988 million, with about 43 per cent spent on shopping. In comparison, Indonesian visitors spent $766 million, while Indian visitors spent $566 million.

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