Tim Leissner was never exactly the shy, retiring type. As the Southeast Asia chairman at Goldman Sachs, he reportedly was making more than $10 million a year by 2012, spending lavishly, and known as a hard-partier
But hooking up with Kimora Lee Simmons — the glamorous model, Baby Phat designer and ex-wife of Def Jam Records co-founder Russell Simmons — that same year pushed him to live a more luxe life.
“He married Kimora and needed to present a richer personality. He couldn’t be a banker. He had to be a rich guy with his own yacht,” Bradley Hope, co-author of “Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Walled Street, Hollywood and the World,” told The Post.
“He wanted to be a player instead of the guy who just deals with players.”
Last week, Leissner, 51, was roasted at federal court in Brooklyn — in the hot seat as government’s witness in the trial of his former underling. Roger Ng is charged with conspiring to launder money and violate the federal Foreign Corrupt Practices Act as part of a purported $4.5 billion heist against the sovereign fund of Malaysia, allegedly spearheaded by notorious party boy — and friend of Leonardo DiCaprio — Jho Low (now on the lam in China).
Goldman Sachs bankers are alleged to have helped themselves to tens of millions of dollars from Malaysia’s sovereign development fund 1MDB, which had raised $8 billion to be invested on behalf of Malaysia’s citizenry.
The German-born Leissner has already worked out a plea deal — pleading guilty to charges of money laundering and forfeiting $43.7 million. (According to court documents, between 2012 and October 2014, more than $200 million is alleged to have been transferred from 1MDB to accounts owned and controlled by Leissner and a co-conspirator.) But Ng’s attorney Marc Agnifilo is still dragging him through the mud.
“Tim Leissner uses people,” Agnifilo said in court on Feb. 14. He was “married to two different women at the same time – twice.” The attorney also accused Leissner of forging documents including divorce papers and of having sexual relations with Jasmine Loo Ai Swan, formerly the general counsel for 1MDB who received a $5 million transfer from the fund.
“Those things should have been red flags,” the defense attorney said.
Calling Leissner a “mini version of Low,” Agnifilo claimed the former banker sought out money to to buy private planes, yachts and homes in Beverly Hills.
Leissner’s attorney had no comment for this story.
Hope also pointed out some of Leissner’s past shady behavior.
In 1993, “He bought a Ph.D. online and started calling himself Dr. Leissner,” the author said. In “Billion Dollar Whale,” Hope writes, “Leissner began using the title ‘Dr.’ at speaking engagements and soon after he secured a promotion to vice president at J.P. Morgan.”
Leissner has always lived a life of privilege.
The son of an affluent Volkswagen executive, as a child he was obsessed with tennis and attended camps where he received lessons from the likes of Steffi Graf. After getting an MBA from the University of Hartford in Connecticut, he moved to London for an entry-level position at J.P. Morgan and his first marriage.
Around the mid-1990s, his marriage hit the skids, business boomed and Hong Kong beckoned.
He next wed married Judy Chan, the daughter of a Chinese coal magnate. The couple’s lavish wedding, held on the grounds of a smart Hong Kong hotel, was notorious for its array of suckling pigs with flashing lights stuffed into the animals’ eye sockets.
(Although Ng’s attorney Anigfilo claimed in court last week that Leissner was a “double bigamist” who was “married to two different women at the same time, twice,” it is not known which women he is referring to.)
For American investment bankers in that era, the Far East was more like the Wild West. Leissner and his colleagues swaggered around the continent, their pockets bulging with cash, taking the notion of work-hard/play-hard to an extreme.
According to the Financial Times, “His partying ability was legendary, and even rivals admit he would still show up on time for meetings, however late the night before had ended.”
Meanwhile, business dealings that would be frowned upon in the West were blithely overlooked in Southeast Asia.
“Tim felt comfortable in the edgy environment,” said Hope. “It was edgy because it mixed government with business. We don’t have that in America — and if we did it would be full of corruption. It’s a dangerous thing having pools of money [accessible to top government officials]. Malaysia is famous for corruption. You have a country where bribes are part of the culture. Skimming money from deals is part of the thing.”
Still, according to Hope, Leissner was enough of a money machine, eventually earning $10 million per year for his work at the investment bank’s Hong Kong headquarters, that his allegedly shady eccentricities were overlooked.
By the time Leissner met Jho Low, around 2008, introduced by Ng, Leissner was regarded as, according to Hope, “the bees’ knees” at Goldman.
Raised in Malaysia, of Chinese descent and educated at Wharton, Low had already developed a reputation as an affluent man with family money and access to sovereign wealth funds. He was known to be a deal maker for the wealthy and now he was looking to corral billions for 1MDB, which was the sovereign wealth fund for the country of Malaysia. Through Ng and Leissner, Goldman Sachs raised the money via bond sales.
According to prosecutors, Ng and Leissner allegedly helped Low embezzle funds from 1MDB in exchange for millions in kickbacks (Ng has pleaded not guilty to all charges). The payoffs quickly got out of hand, and so did the lifestyle.
Leissner was a guest at Low’s 2012 birthday party in a converted Vegas airplane hangar that housed diversions such as a Ferris wheel and cigar lounge. Attendees included Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton along with Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis, taking a night off from filming “The Hangover” at Caesars Palace. Britney Spears jumped out of a cake that night and serenaded Low. Robin Leach gushed about it being “the most expensive party that Las Vegas has ever seen.”
Low paid celebrities such as Megan Fox and Leonardo DiCaprio to attend his parties, flying them in on a private jet.
In 2012, Leissner was en route to a Formula 1 race when he met Kimora Lee Simmons in business class on a Cathay Pacific flight between Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. Almost immediately, according to “Billion Dollar Whale,” they began arguing over who should be able to use the empty middle seat for extra carry-ons. By the time they landed, Leissner had proposed marriage.
Though that took two years, they quickly became an item. Leissner suddenly found himself living an elevated life at her $25 million mansion in the elite Beverly Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. The two had a son, Wolfe, in 2015. (Kimora also has two daughters, Ming, 22, and Aoki, 19, with Russell Simmons; son Kenzo, 12, with actor Djimon Hounsou; and adopted son Gary, 12.)
“The impression [colleagues] had was that he wanted to make a lot of money,” Hope said of Leissner when Kimora came into his life. “He wasn’t content to make what he made.”
Leissner always seemed to have ways of justifying his success without seeming unsavory.
“Nobody knew he was doing the things he was doing or the full extent of it,” Hope said, referring specifically to the Jho Low caper but explaining that it could have gone beyond that one. Seeing how much business Leissner brought in from Southeast Asia, a part of the world that can be difficult for American bankers to penetrate, Goldman colleagues “wondered how he did what he did and how he pulled it off. He said he was charismatic and understood the culture.”
Hope is not surprised that Leissner pulled it off: “People like Tim know how to control themselves. They are good chameleons.”
But rubber hit the road in 2015 when it became clear that the 1MDB Fund had accumulated overwhelming debt. Goldman Sachs launched an in-house investigation. Leissner, suspended from the firm, repaired to the luxe life in Los Angeles. Once arrested, in June 2018, he speedily entered a guilty plea and began negotiating the most important deal of his life.
“Basically, Leissner agreed to testify against everybody,” Hope told The Post. “Ng got arrested and allowed himself to be extradited. He did not want to do a plea deal. He … is fighting because he thinks he is a small fish and why should he take the brunt of culpability?”
Meanwhile, Leissner had also courted the wrath of his wife’s ex. Russell and Kimora each own half of an investment firm that held four million shares of the Celsius Energy Drink company; Russell claims that half of the shares were fraudulently transferred to help cover Leissner’s bail and legal fees; Kimora maintains that she and Leissner purchased the shares independently. Russell has filed a lawsuit against the couple.
Kimora and Leissner are now separated.
Hope, for one, believes that if the perpetrators had not been quite so greedy, things might have ended differently.
“If just a billion dollars had been stolen, they might have gotten away with it,” the author said. “But the fund turned into a pyramid scheme. They needed new money to service the debt.”