The Goldman Sachs & Co. logo is displayed at the company’s booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg)

Goldman’s Woes Mount as Malaysia Slaps First Criminal Charge

(Bloomberg) -- Malaysia is demanding Goldman Sachs Group Inc. bear the brunt of the 1MDB scandal, opening up another legal front for the Wall Street firm over its role raising money for the investment fund.

The country filed the first criminal charges against the U.S. bank in the global corruption probe on Monday, after publicly urging Goldman to come to the negotiating table or face litigation. The firm already is in the thick of investigations by U.S. prosecutors and regulators over Goldman’s conduct in the controversy.

Malaysian authorities allege that Goldman misled investors when the bank knew that proceeds from 1MDB bond sales it arranged would be misappropriated. The government is seeking fines in excess of both the $2.7 billion of allegedly misused funds and the $600 million in fees received by Goldman on the deals. Goldman has blamed rogue employees for any wrongdoing in relation to 1MDB, a state-owned investment fund.

“Their fraud goes to the heart of our capital markets,” Malaysian Attorney General Tommy Thomas said 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.”

Goldman’s Woes Mount as Malaysia Slaps First Criminal Charge

Goldman Sachs’s role in raising about $6.5 billion for 1MDB in 2012 and 2013 has evolved into its thorniest scandal since the global financial crisis a decade ago triggered a public backlash against banks. Former Goldman partner Tim Leissner has pleaded guilty to U.S. bribery charges and his former deputy, Roger Ng, was arrested in Malaysia. And one of its senior investment bankers in Asia has been put on leave after being referenced in charging documents.

Goldman Sachs said it would “vigorously contest” the charges, which it said came without a chance for the firm to provide its view.

“Certain members of the former Malaysian government and 1MDB lied to Goldman Sachs, outside counsel and others about the use of proceeds from these transactions,” the bank said in an emailed statement Monday. “1MDB, whose CEO and board reported directly to the prime minister at the time, also provided written assurances to Goldman Sachs for each transaction that no intermediaries were involved.”

Goldman’s Woes Mount as Malaysia Slaps First Criminal Charge

Goldman’s increasing proximity to the scandal has weighed on its stock, which is down about a third since the beginning of the year. That has erased its so-called Trump bump, a reference to the boost all major banking stocks received after President Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016. Goldman shares are now trading at the lowest level since October 2016.

Along with targeting the firm, Malaysia filed related charges against Leissner and Ng, as well as former 1MDB employee Jasmine Loo Ai Swan and fugitive financier Low Taek Jho.

The indictment focuses on circulars and memoranda that Goldman prepared for the 1MDB bonds, saying that they contained statements that were false or misleading or both. Malaysia is pursuing the claim on the basis that the relevant bond documents were sent to the regulator in its offshore banking haven in Labuan, and therefore were covered by its securities law, Thomas said in the statement.

Malaysia is filing the charges against three of the bank’s units -- Goldman Sachs International (UK), Goldman Sachs (Singapore) and Goldman Sachs (Asia) LLC -- the Edge newspaper reported, citing charge sheets from the Kuala Lumpur court.

“The criminal charges of this nature are grave, and it goes to the core of Goldman’s business as an investment bank,” said Nizam Ismail, a partner at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP in Singapore. “If the outcome of the case results in a criminal conviction against the bank, there are potentially severe reputational and financial risks to the bank, as well as the bank’s standing as a licensed financial institution with regulators worldwide.”

Officials in Malaysia had previously said they were seeking a full refund from Goldman Sachs for the fees it received for the 1MDB bond sales. The $600 million Goldman earned from the bond issues dwarfed what banks typically make from government deals.

Goldman’s Woes Mount as Malaysia Slaps First Criminal Charge

Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, the alleged mastermind of the schemes to siphon billions of dollars from 1MDB, was also charged in absentia in the U.S. He was accused of conspiring with Ng, then a Goldman Sachs banker, to launder billions of dollars embezzled from 1MDB, known formally as 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

A spokesman for Low issued a statement from his attorneys that he maintained his innocence.

The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, is ramping up an investigation into how executives dodged the bank’s internal controls while helping Malaysian authorities raise the money, people briefed on the matter said late last month. The probe examines the actions of Goldman Sachs as well as individuals and has been gaining momentum, the people said, asking not to be identified because the inquiry is confidential.

Leissner’s guilty plea suggests he’s helping U.S. authorities with their investigation of the bank. Other regulators are examining if its conduct points to a broader pattern of prioritizing lucrative business deals at the expense of following rigorous compliance standards.

And two Abu Dhabi funds -- International Petroleum Investment Co. and Aabar Investments -- have filed a civil suit against Goldman Sachs in New York, seeking damages for alleged fraud in connection with embezzlement at 1MDB.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.