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U.S. judge sets ex-Goldman banker's 1MDB corruption trial for February, despite Omicron

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FILE PHOTO: The Seal of the United States of America is seen on the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse in the Brooklyn borough in New York

By Jonathan Stempel and Jody Godoy

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Friday said a former Goldman Sachs banker charged in the 1MDB Malaysian sovereign wealth fund scandal will be tried in early February, expressing confidence the Omicron coronavirus variant will not upend the trial.

Chief Judge Margo Brodie of the federal court in Brooklyn delayed jury selection for Roger Ng by three weeks to Feb. 7, with a trial beginning the following week. Jury selection had been set for Jan. 18.

Ng, the former head of investment banking for Goldman Sachs Malaysia, has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to violate an anti-bribery law and launder money.

His former employer agreed in October 2020 to pay $2.9 billion and have a Malaysian unit admit criminal wrongdoing to settle probes by the U.S. Department of Justice and others into the alleged looting of billions of dollars from 1MDB.

Prosecutors sought to delay Ng's trial until late February, saying Omicron could cause disruptions and prevent travel by government witnesses from Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

But the judge said trials are taking place in Brooklyn, and a short delay should suffice based on expectations of the court's epidemiologist.

"It will be a little easier for us to get a decent jury pool because, according to the epidemiologist, that the virus will peak in January, then I think we'll be on the down end of it," Brodie said.

Lawyers for Ng had opposed delaying the trial, saying he was ready to proceed after spending more than three years away from his family since his November 2018 arrest in Malaysia. Ng was extradited six months later.

"He's spent every one of the last 1,000 days getting ready for this trial, and that's what he's going to do until this trial is over," Ng's lawyer Marc Agnifilo told Brodie, before accepting the three-week delay.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak launched 1MDB promote economic development.

Goldman helped sell $6.5 billion of bonds for 1MDB, and authorities said its bankers paid more than $1.6 billion in bribes for 1MDB business.

The case is U.S. v. Ng, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 18-cr-00538.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Jody Godoy in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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