Malaysia's Attorney-General says Goldman Sachs directors may face trial in 1MDB-linked case

Attorney-General Tommy Thomas is leading Malaysia's criminal case against Goldman Sachs. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PUTRAJAYA (BLOOMBERG) - Malaysia's top prosecutor said he's ready to ratchet up a criminal case against Goldman Sachs Group for its role in the 1MDB affair by bringing executives of the US bank to court, as the two sides remain far apart following several rounds of settlement talks.

When the time is right, Malaysia will press ahead with the prosecution of more than a dozen current and former Goldman Sachs directors "because we need them in the dock", Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said in a Friday (Dec 20) interview.

"The 17 directors committed crime in Malaysia, which is why they are being charged, so there is no reason why we are not going against them," he said.

Mr Thomas is leading Malaysia's criminal case against Goldman Sachs, which was launched last year when charges were laid against three of the bank's units.

In August, Malaysia announced additional charges against 17 former and current directors, including vice-chairman Richard J. Gnodde, who heads its international business in London.

Malaysia has had two or three rounds of negotiations with Goldman Sachs, and remains open to further talks, Mr Thomas said.

But a settlement remains distant, he added.

"There is still a Pacific Ocean gulf between Malaysia and Goldman Sachs," he said. "But as far as we're concerned, the door to settlement is always open. They know where we are, they can come and see us if they want to find us."

A representative for Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

Mr Thomas's comments contrast with recent reports that Goldman Sachs is making progress in talks with US and Malaysian authorities to put the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal behind it.

The bank is said to be negotiating with the US for a US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion) settlement that would include an admission of guilt by a unit in Asia.

A figure of at least US$2 billion has been floated in the settlement talks with Malaysia, Bloomberg reported earlier this month.

Mr Thomas said he didn't have direct knowledge of the progress of the US settlement talks. But he said Malaysia had heard from contacts at the US Justice Department that a resolution remains "very far away".

Instead, Mr Thomas said he's focused on preparing to prosecute Goldman's units and directors in a trial which he expects to start in the middle of next year.

He echoed Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in saying Malaysia will seek compensation from Goldman Sachs that includes the US$6.5 billion value of bonds the bank arranged for 1MDB, as well as interest.

That totals US$8 billion to US$9 billion, Mr Thomas said.

At a hearing on Monday in Kuala Lumpur, the case against two of the three Goldman Sachs units facing charges was moved to the Malaysian High Court.

"We prepare for the trial, and if there is settlement talks, we can do it simultaneously," Mr Thomas said in the interview at his office in Malaysia's administrative capital of Putrajaya.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.