A former employee of the U.S. Department of Justice pleaded guilty Friday for his role in a conspiracy to deceive banks in the United States about the source and purpose of millions of dollars sent from overseas to finance a lobbying campaign on behalf of foreign interests, announced Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
George Higginbotham, 46, of Washington, D.C., who was employed at the Justice Department as a Senior Congressional Affairs Specialist from July 2016 to August 2018, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to make false statements to a bank before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.
Bloomberg called it “a bizarre scheme to pressure the U.S to go easy on Malaysians involved in one of the biggest financial scandals in years relied on an unlikely middleman — a Justice Department employee.”
According to admissions made in connection with his plea, in 2017 Higginbotham helped facilitate the transfer of tens of millions of dollars from foreign bank accounts to accounts in the United States to finance a lobbying campaign to resolve civil and criminal matters related to the Department of Justice’s investigation of the embezzlement and bribery scheme concerning 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Fugitive Jho Low
Higginbotham admitted that the foreign principal behind the lobbying campaign was alleged to be the primary architect of the 1MDB scheme. The term “prime architect” is thought to refer to fugitive financier Jho Low, who has engaged numerous agencies, lawyers and PR firms to advocate his position or his boss, ex-Malaysian PM, Najib Razak, according to the Sarawak Report, which has reported extensively on the 1MDB affair.
Higginbotham further admitted that another purpose of the lobbying campaign was an attempt to persuade high-level U.S. government officials to have a separate foreign national, who was residing in the United States on a temporary visa at the time, removed from the United States and sent back to his country of origin. The Sarawak Report said that “foreign national” was a whistleblower that the perpetrators of the alleged scheme wanted to silence.
In order to conceal the identity of the foreign principal behind the lobbying campaign, Higginbotham admitted to conspiring to make false statements to financial institutions in the United States concerning the source and purpose of the funds. Higginbotham also admitted to working on various fake loan and consulting documents in order to deceive banks and other regulators about the true source and purpose of the money.