Goldman Sachs, ex-banker sued over Malaysian bank takeover

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Goldman Sachs Group is accused in a lawsuit of conspiring to help a Malaysian bank buy a rival on the cheap as part of a campaign to curry favor with Prime Minister Najib Razak that included fundraising for the embattled 1MDB fund.

The suit by Primus Pacific Partners 1 accuses Goldman Sachs and former managing director Tim Leissner of betraying their duties as financial adviser of EON Capital, which was taken over by Hong Leong Bank for US$1.7 billion (S$2.31 billion) in May 2011, creating Malaysia's fourth-biggest lender.

The lawsuit comes as Goldman's fundraising activities on behalf of 1MDB, Malaysia's Sovereign Wealth Fund, have drawn the attention of US prosecutors. In a complaint filed last week, they laid out a road map that appeared to show how more than US$2 billion raised by Goldman for 1MDB was siphoned off by politically connected people and funneled into various projects, including Hollywood movie productions, famous paintings and a Bombardier jet.

Without assigning any blame to the bank, the prosecutors' complaint indicated that the documents circulated by Goldman prior to the bond sales were misleading. Tim Leissner, the former vice chairman of Goldman's operations in Asia, was the lead banker on the 1MDB deals. He left Goldman early this year after being placed him on administrative leave.

Michael Duvally, a spokesman for Goldman Sachs, didn't immediately respond to a telephone message and an e-mail seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Earlier Challenges Primus, EON's biggest shareholder after buying a stake of more than 20 percent in 2008, unsuccessfully mounted two court challenges to block the sale, arguing that Hong Leong's takeover price was too low.

The suit filed in New York state court Tuesday accuses Goldman of convincing EON's board to hire it as financial adviser by misrepresenting and hiding conflicts of interest. The conflicts stemmed from existing and potential business interests in Malaysia, including its close relationship with Razak, according to the complaint.

The suit seeks US$510 million in damages, including a punitive award.