A Goldman Sachs office board in Sydney, Australia. Picture: REUTERS
A Goldman Sachs office board in Sydney, Australia. Picture: REUTERS

Malaysia has filed criminal charges against Goldman Sachs and two of the US bank’s former employees in connection with an investigation into suspected corruption and money laundering at state fund 1MDB.

Malaysia will seek jail terms as well as billions in fines from Goldman Sachs and four other individuals who allegedly diverted about $2.7bn from 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), attorney-general Tommy Thomas said in a statement on Monday.

This is the first time Goldman Sachs, which has consistently denied wrongdoing, has faced criminal charges in the 1MDB scandal.

A Goldman Sachs spokesperson said the charges were “misdirected” and the bank would vigorously defend them. The bank continues to co-operate with all authorities in their investigations, he said.

Goldman Sachs has been under scrutiny for its role in helping raise $6.5bn through three bond offerings for 1MDB, which is the subject of investigations in at least six countries.

The US Department of Justice has said about $4.5bn was misappropriated from 1MDB, including some money Goldman Sachs helped raise, by high-level officials of the fund and their associates from 2009 through 2014.

Thomas said criminal charges under securities laws were filed on Monday against Goldman Sachs, its former bankers Tim Leissner and Roger Ng, former 1MDB employee Jasmine Loo and financier Jho Low in connection with the bond offerings.

“The charges arise from the commission and abetment of false or misleading statements by all the accused in order to dishonestly misappropriate $2.7bn from the proceeds of three bonds issued by the subsidiaries of 1MDB, which were arranged and underwritten by Goldman Sachs,” Thomas said in a statement.

He said the offering circulars filed with the regulators contained statements that were false, misleading or with material omissions.

“Having held themselves out as the pre-eminent global adviser/arranger for bonds, the highest standards are expected of Goldman Sachs. They have fallen short of any standard,” Thomas said.

Prosecutors would seek fines against the accused “well in excess" of the allegedly misappropriated $2.7bn bond proceeds plus $600m in fees received by Goldman Sachs, he said.

Malaysia would also seek jail terms of up to 10 years for each of the individuals accused, he said.

Bribery allegations 

Thomas accused the four individuals charged of conspiring to “bribe Malaysian public officials in order to procure the selection, involvement and participation of Goldman Sachs in the bond issuances”.

US prosecutors filed criminal charges against the former Goldman Sachs bankers, Leissner and Ng, in November.

Leissner pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Ng, detained in Malaysia, is facing extradition to the US. Lawyers for Leissner and Ng could not be reached immediately.

Loo, against whom Malaysia brought other 1MDB related charges in December, has not commented on the 1MDB case and her whereabouts are not known.

Low, whom authorities have described as a central figure in the suspected fraud, maintains his innocence.

“As has been stated previously, Mr Low will not submit to any jurisdiction where guilt has been predetermined by politics and there is no independent legal process,” Low’s spokesperson said in a statement.

Thomas also said the fees received by Goldman Sachs for the bond offering were higher than prevailing market rates.

Goldman has said the fees related to additional risks: it bought the unrated bonds while it sought investors and, in the case of a 2013 bond deal which raised $2.7bn, 1MDB wanted the funds quickly.

The 1MDB scandal was a major reason for former premier Najib Razak’s shock election defeat in May.

He has been charged with corruption over the scandal and has pleaded not guilty.