HONOLULU (AP) — An American consultant was sentenced Wednesday to two years in prison for an illicit lobbying effort to get the former Trump administration to drop an investigation into the multibillion-dollar looting of a Malaysian state investment fund, and to arrange for the return of a Chinese dissident living in the U.S.
Nickie Mali Lum Davis, of Honolulu, pleaded guilty in 2020 to one count of aiding and abetting in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
U.S. prosecutors say Davis failed to disclose to the federal government that the lobbying effort was done on behalf of a fugitive Malaysian financier who has been charged in the U.S. with conspiring to launder billions of dollars from the fund.
In exchange for millions of dollars, Davis and others tried to use back channels to influence officials at the highest levels of the U.S. government and sell connections to the “highest foreign bidder,” said John Keller, of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, speaking at Davis’ sentencing in Honolulu.
The charge stemmed from the complicated saga of 1MDB, a Malaysian wealth fund that was established more than a decade ago to accelerate the country’s economic development. Prosecutors said, however, that the fund was actually treated as a piggy bank by associates of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
U.S. prosecutors alleged that at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib’s associates to finance Hollywood films and buy hotels, a luxury yacht, artwork, jewelry and other extravagances. Najib was sentenced in Malaysia to 12 years in prison.
Najib had set up the 1MDB fund shortly after taking power in 2009. He was found guilty in 2020 of seven charges of corruption.
The effort to wipe away legal troubles for the Malaysian financier who prosecutors say helped orchestrate the pilfering was ultimately unsuccessful. Also unsuccessful was an effort to arrange meetings with the Justice Department to lobby for the return to China of a dissident living in the U.S. on a temporary visa, authorities said.
Davis has agreed to a payment schedule to repay $3 million, her attorneys said.
David Minkin, one of her attorneys, said she only relayed messages back and forth. “I never had the government connections,” Davis told the judge, calling her the “middle person.”
U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi said Davis hasn’t shown remorse, noting that she previously tried to withdraw her guilty plea.
Kobayashi ordered her to report to the Bureau of Prisons on April 14.
Davis’ attorneys declined to comment on the sentence.