SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS.N) banker is in talks with U.S. prosecutors to potentially plead guilty to criminal charges stemming from an alleged scheme to steal billions of dollars from a Malaysian state investment fund, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The report said the talks bring the fast-moving investigation closer to Goldman, which raised billions of dollars for 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
It also comes after Malaysia’s former prime minister, Najib Razak, who founded the fund and lost his re-election bid earlier this year, was charged with abuse of power and criminal breach of trust in relation to SRC International, a former 1MDB unit.
Najib pleaded not guilty to those charges and has consistently denied any wrongdoing in relation to 1MDB.
Tim Leissner, a one-time Goldman partner and Southeast Asia chairman hasn’t been charged. He is seeking an agreement with prosecutors that would involve his co-operation with the government’s criminal fraud probe into 1MDB and Goldman, the report said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) declined to comment. A lawyer for Leissner also declined to comment.
A Goldman Sachs spokesman told Reuters: “Since we suspended Mr. Leissner, we have discovered certain activities he undertook that were deliberately hidden from the firm, which we have brought to the attention of the relevant authorities who continue to receive our full cooperation.”
Last month, citing sources familiar with the matter, Reuters reported that Malaysia is considering asking the DoJ to get Goldman Sachs to return nearly $600 million in fees it earned from bonds raised for 1MDB.
Goldman raised nearly $6.5 billion in three bond sales between 2012 and 2013 for 1MDB. More than $2.5 billion raised from these bonds was misappropriated by high-level 1MDB officials, their relatives and associates, according to DoJ civil lawsuits filed in a U.S. court in 2016.
Goldman earned almost $600 million for the three deals – an amount critics say is far in excess of the normal 1-2 percent fees a bank could expect for helping sell bonds.
Goldman has maintained that the outsized fees related to the additional risks it took on – it bought the un-rated bonds while it sought investors and, in the case of the 2013 deal which raised $2.7 billion, 1MDB wanted the funds in a hurry for a planned investment.
The WSJ said one potential charge Leissner could ultimately plead guilty to would be a violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans the use of bribes to foreign officials to get or keep business.
The report said prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn are also investigating whether Goldman violated any laws.
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Reporting by Anshuman Daga; Additional reporting by Joel Schectman in WASHINGTON; Editing by Neil Fullick