Malaysia has filed criminal charges against Goldman Sachs over its dealings with a state investment fund at the heart of a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal.
The case relates to bond sales that Goldman Sachs (GS) arranged and underwrote for 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) in 2012 and 2013.
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The US investment bank and four individuals — two of them former Goldman employees — are accused of "grave violations" of Malaysia's securities laws, Attorney General Tommy Thomas said in a statement Monday.
The Wall Street firm has become a central figure in a damaging scandal involving billions in missing money, Malaysia's former prime minister and a high-rolling financier with ties to Hollywood. But this is the first time Goldman Sachs has faced criminal charges for its role in the saga.
The US Justice Department alleges a total of $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB by senior officials. US officials claim that laundered funds were pumped into New York condos, hotels, yachts and a jet, and used to fund movies such as "The Wolf of Wall Street."
Thomas accused the bank and four individuals of misleading investors about the bond sales and fraudulently diverting $2.7 billion of the proceeds.
"Having held themselves out as the pre-eminent global adviser / arranger for bonds, the highest standards are expected of Goldman Sachs," Malaysia's attorney general said in the statement. "They have fallen far short of any standard. In consequence, they have to be held accountable."
Fines and prison sought
Prosecutors will seek fines against Goldman Sachs and the accused individuals in excess of $3.3 billion, he said. That figure represents the amount allegedly misappropriated plus an additional $600 million in fees that Goldman received for its work on the deals.
"We believe these charges are misdirected and we will vigorously defend them and look forward to the opportunity to present our case," a Goldman Sachs spokesman said in a statement. "The firm continues to cooperate with all authorities investigating these matters."
Prosecutors will also press for prison sentences of up to 10 years for the individuals, Thomas said.
One of the two former Goldman Sachs bankers facing criminal charges is its former South East Asia chairman Tim Leissner. Leissner pleaded guilty in August in the United States to conspiring to steal money from 1MDB. He told a US federal court that Goldman's "culture" encouraged executives to work around the legal team to score business.
Thomas on Monday accused Goldman of receiving fees from the bond sales that were "several times higher than the prevailing market rates and industry norms." And he said bank employees personally received part of the misappropriated proceeds.
Financier still at large
The Malaysian prosecutors also filed criminal charges against Jho Low, a Malaysian financier who allegedly played a key role in laundering billions of dollars from 1MDB.
Malaysian authorities earlier this year recovered a $250 million yacht purchased by Low in 2014. Public money from 1MDB was allegedly used to buy the boat.
Low, who maintains his innocence, remains at large.
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has already been hit with dozens of corruption-related charges over allegations that he siphoned off $681 million from 1MDB. Najib has pleaded not guilty to the offenses.
The US Federal Reserve is also reported to be probing Goldman over its ties to 1MDB.