JAKARTA (Reuters) - An Indonesian court postponed on Tuesday the hearing of a billion-dollar dispute between Goldman Sachs (GS.N) and a local tycoon by two weeks, granting him time to gather more evidence to prove a claim the U.S. bank's unit unlawfully sold shares he owned.
Goldman had taken the unusual step of counter-suing the retail-to-property businessman - Benny Tjokrosaputro - in a Jakarta court claiming reputational damage. The court hearing on Tuesday was set to have given Tjokrosaputro a chance to rebuff Goldman's assertion, but it is now delayed until Feb. 21.
The dispute comes at a time when Indonesia, Southeast Asia's largest economy, is embarking on its biggest drive for foreign investment in a decade. Its government recently raised investor concerns by cutting business ties with JPMorgan over a negative research report and partially reversing a mining policy.
At stake in the Goldman case is the protection of the rights of foreigners, amid a general lack of transparency in Indonesian court proceedings, legal experts say.
"This lack of transparency can result in very surprising decisions, especially when you have a foreign party seeking recovery from a well-resourced and well-connected local party," Bill Sullivan, senior foreign counsel at Indonesian law firm Christian Teo & Partners, told Reuters in an email.
Goldman's dispute with Tjokrosaputro, president director of property developer PT Hanson International Tbk (MYRX.JK), stems from an arcane area of the financial market in which individuals or firms sell shares in return for short-term funding, according to court documents and people familiar with the matter.
Such a repurchase agreement, or a repo, effectively acts as a loan but the deal involves temporarily transferring legal ownership of the shares.
Tjokrosaputro had pledged 425 million Hanson shares to U.S. hedge fund Platinum Partners in return for funding on the basis that he could get the shares back upon repayment, according to Tjokrosaputro's lawyers and court documents.
Goldman Sachs International, a London-based unit of Goldman, bought the Hanson shares from Platinum as a hedge for the derivatives it had entered into with the fund, a bank spokesman said.
In late 2014, New York-based Platinum fell into financial difficulties and had trouble paying back a large number of investors, according to U.S. authorities who recently charged top executives of the fund with running a $1 billion fraud.
Goldman started selling the Hanson shares last year, but was forced to stop after Tjokrosaputro filed a police complaint.
He went on to sue Goldman in September for 15 trillion rupiah ($1.1 billion), alleging the transaction was conducted "unlawfully".
In response, Goldman counter-sued the tycoon last month for at least $1.1 billion.
Goldman "lawfully" acquired the shares from Platinum through the negotiated board of the Indonesian Stock Exchange and the transactions were validly settled, it says in its court documents.
A key area of the dispute relates to who actually owned the shares during the repo transaction.
Goldman says in its court filings that it "understands" Platinum originally acquired the Hanson shares from an entity named Newrick Holdings Ltd, rather than from Tjokrosaputro.
According to the "Panama Papers" online database as of 2015, which compiled millions of leaked documents from law firm Mossack Fonseca, Newrick is a company registered in the British Virgin Islands in which Tjokrosaputro was a shareholder.
A bank spokesman told Reuters that Goldman Sachs International was not aware of any dealings between Tjokrosaputro or his affiliated entities and Platinum Partners, nor any restrictions on the shares it purchased.
The tycoon's lawyer reiterated on Tuesday that Tjokrosaputro was the legal owner of the shares in the repo transaction with Platinum and, since he did not breach any contract with Platinum, only he had the right to sell them.
Tjokrosaputro's lawyer did not immediately provide comment on Goldman's claim that Platinum had acquired the shares from Newrick.
Platinum has earlier declined to comment on the dispute.
($1 = 13,327.00 rupiah)
Reporting by Eveline Danubrata in Jakarta and Lawrence Delevingne in New York; Additional reporting by Cindy Silviana in Jakarta; Editing by Michelle Price, Himani Sarkar and Muralikumar Anantharaman