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Goldman Sachs is facing criminal charges in Malaysia

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Facing charges: Goldman Sachs Investment banking company logo seen displayed on smart phone. Photo: Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Malaysia’s attorney general has filed criminal charges against Goldman Sachs (GS) related to the theft of billions of dollars from the country’s development fund.

Charges were bought on Monday against Goldman Sachs investment bank and its former employees Tim Leissner, Roger Ng. Jasmine Loo Ai Swan, and Jho Low. Two former employees of Malaysia’s sovereign fund 1MDB, were also charged.

The charges relate to the long-running scandal centring around 1MDB. Authorities around the world have been investigating claims that billions were stolen from 1MDB for several years. Earlier this year former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was arrested on anti-corruption charges as part of a probe into 1MDB. The Financial Times estimated that as much as $4.5bn has been stolen from the fund.

Malaysian authorities on Monday accused Goldman Sachs of helping to facilitate the stealing of $2.7bn from government-backed bond issues that raised $6.5bn. The three bonds were issued by 1MDB, a government-owned strategic development fund, in 2012 and 2013. Goldman Sachs helped arrange the issues.

Malaysia’s attorney general accused two Goldman employees involved in the deal of conspiring with 1MDB employees to “bribe Malaysian public officials in order to procure the selection, involvement and participation of Goldman Sachs in these Bond issuances.”

Goldman received $600m for helping to underwrite and arrange the bond issues, which the attorney general said was “several times higher than the prevailing market rates and industry norms.”

Leissner and Ng are also accused of receiving some of the stolen funds and structuring the bond issue knowing that the proceeds “would be misappropriated and fraudulently diverted.” Leissner, one of Goldman’s former top bankers in Asia, has already pleaded guilty to money laundering charges related to the 1MDB cases in the US.

Tommy Thomas, Malaysia’s attorney general, said in a statement on Monday that the charges represented “grave violations of our securities laws.”

“Prosecutors will seek criminal fines against the accused well in excess of the $2.7bn misappropriated from the Bonds proceeds and $600m in fees received by Goldman Sachs, and custodial sentences against each of the individual accused: the maximum term of imprisonment being 10 years,” Thomas wrote in a statement announcing the charges.

“If no criminal proceedings are instituted against the accused, their undermining of our financial system and market integrity will go unpunished.”

A Goldman Sachs spokesperson told Yahoo Finance UK: “We believe these charges are misdirected, will vigorously defend them and look forward to the opportunity to present our case. The firm continues to co-operate with all authorities investigating these matters.”

Jho Low, who was charged on Monday, has become the face of the 1MDB scandal. His lavish spending and lifestyle was documented in the book “Billion Dollar Whale,” released earlier this year, and a luxury yacht he used to own is currently on sale for $130m. Low also helped to finance the Leonardo DiCaprio film “Wolf of Wall Street.”