Goldman Sachs bankers 'cheated' Malaysia over 1MDB: PM Mahathir

KUALA LUMPUR/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said bankers at Goldman Sachs Group Inc GS.N "cheated" the country in dealings with state fund 1MDB and that U.S. authorities have promised to help return the fees the Wall Street bank earned from the fund.

FILE PHOTO: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad gives a speech at Chulalongkorn University, in Bangkok, Thailand October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

The U.S. investment bank has been under scrutiny for its role in helping raise funds through bond offerings for 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) [TERRN.UL], which is the subject of corruption and money-laundering investigations in at least six countries.

Goldman’s stock fell to a near two-year low on Monday after Malaysian Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said his country would seek a “full refund” of the around $600 million in fees the bank earned from raising $6.5 billion for the fund. The stock eased 0.5 percent on Tuesday.

A Goldman Sachs spokesman on Monday said in an email to Reuters that the bank denied any wrongdoing.

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

U.S. prosecutors filed criminal charges against two former Goldman Sachs bankers earlier this month. One of them, Tim Leissner, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

“There is evidence that Goldman Sachs has done things that are wrong,” Mahathir said in an interview with U.S. news channel CNBC aired on Tuesday.

“Obviously we have been cheated through the compliance by Goldman Sachs people,” he said, without specifying details.

The bank’s compliance controls “don’t work very well”, he added.

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A second Goldman Sachs spokesman in Hong Kong declined to comment on Mahathir’s comments in the interview.

Asked by reporters later in Singapore if he had officially requested the DOJ to help return money that Goldman earned from 1MDB, Mahathir said: “It takes a little bit of time but they (DOJ) have promised that they will give back the money.” He was speaking on the sidelines of a summit in Singapore.

A DOJ spokeswoman said the United States continued to pursue justice with respect to its 1MDB investigations. Whenever possible, recovered assets would be used to “benefit the people” harmed by corruption and abuse of office, she added.

Anwar Ibrahim, appointed successor to 93-year-old Mahathir, told parliament on Tuesday that Malaysia needed to take “more aggressive measures” to reclaim the fees and losses due to the harm the scandal had done to the country’s image.

Finance Minister Lim told reporters the country would seek consequential losses as well as the return of fees.

“The Malaysian government will want to reclaim all the fees paid, as well as all the losses including the interest rate differential,” Lim told reporters. He said the rate Malaysia had paid was about 100 basis points higher than the market rate.

Critics have said the fees earned by Goldman Sachs were far in excess of the normal 1-2 percent a bank could expect for helping sell bonds.

Goldman has said the outsized 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 $2.7 billion, 1MDB wanted the funds quickly.

Citing sources, Reuters reported in June that Malaysia was considering asking the DOJ to get Goldman Sachs to return the fees it had earned from the 1MDB deals.

The 1MDB scandal was a major reason for former premier Najib Razak’s shock election loss in May. He has been charged with corruption over the scandal and has pleaded not guilty.

Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, described by U.S. and Malaysian authorities as central to the 1MDB fraud, was charged by U.S. prosecutors this month. He remains at large.

Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi and Joseph Sipalan in KUALA LUMPUR, Aradhana Aravindan in SINGAPORE; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Stephen Coates