Malaysia filed criminal charges Friday against 17 current and former executives of three Goldman Sachs subsidiaries, piling further pressure on the Wall Street titan over the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal.
They included Richard Gnodde, chief executive of Goldman Sachs International, and Michael Evans, former chief of Goldman’s Asia operations who is now president of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Huge sums were looted from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad in a globe-spanning fraud, which allegedly involved ex-prime minister Najib Razak and his inner circle.
Goldman’s role has been under scrutiny as it helped arrange bond issues worth $6.5 billion for 1MDB. Malaysia claims large amounts were misappropriated in the process, and is seeking hefty compensation from the bank.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad re-opened investigations into the 1MDB affair last year after defeating Najib at the polls, in large part due to public anger at the scandal, and pressure has been steadily mounting on the bank since.
Announcing the latest charges, Attorney General Tommy Thomas said: “Custodial sentences and criminal fines will be sought against the accused… given the severity of the scheme to defraud and fraudulent misappropriation of billions in bond proceeds.”
Goldman said in a statement it believed the charges were “misdirected” and would be “vigorously defended”.
“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,” it said.
Thomas said the 17 accused were directors of the three Goldman subsidiaries in 2012 and 2013, when the fund raising took place.
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In December, Malaysia filed charges against the units — Goldman Sachs International, Goldman Sachs (Asia), and Goldman Sachs (Singapore) — and two ex-employees.
They were accused of giving false statements which led to $2.7 billion being misappropriated in relation to the bond issues. Goldman vowed to fight those charges.
Friday’s charges were brought under laws which mandate that directors, chief executives and other corporate representatives in position at the time of an offence are also deemed to have committed that crime, the statement said.
This does not apply in cases where someone can prove that the crime was committed without their consent or that they sought to prevent it from being committed.
Goldman earned about $600 million in fees for helping 1MDB arrange three bond issues. Malaysia says the payments were far above regular market rates, and is seeking compensation of $7.5 billion from the bank in relation to the scandal.
The two former employees charged in Malaysia in December, Tim Leissner and Ng Chong Hwa, were also indicted in the United States.
Leissner, who worked as Southeast Asia chairman and managing director at Goldman, has already pleaded guilty in the US. Ng, an ex-managing director at the bank, was extradited to the US from Malaysia in May and pleaded not guilty.
The alleged mastermind of the scandal — Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, who was close to Najib — has been charged in Malaysia and the U.S. but remains at large.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which is investigating the scandal as money was allegedly laundered through the US financial system, believes $4.5 billion was looted from the fund.
It was allegedly spent on luxury goods ranging from a super-yacht to high-end real estate and artworks, and used to finance the production of the hit Leonardo DiCaprio film “The Wolf of Wall Street”.
Since his shock election loss last year, Najib has been hit with dozens of charges over the scandal and went on trial in April. He denies any wrongdoing.