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Malaysia seeking ‘full refund' from Goldman for 1MDB deals

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Malaysia is seeking a full refund of all the fees it paid to Goldman Sachs Group Inc for arranging billions of dollars of deals for troubled state fund 1MDB, said Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.

[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysia is seeking a full refund of all the fees it paid to Goldman Sachs Group Inc for arranging billions of dollars of deals for troubled state fund 1MDB, said Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.

Goldman has "admitted culpability" after former banker Tim Leissner entered a guilty plea for his role in the scandal, Mr Lim said in a Monday interview with radio station BFM. Mr Lim is banking on the firm's "indirect" admission of wrongdoing and US law against kleptocracy, to help Malaysia recoup fees that include nearly US$600 million that it paid Goldman for three bond deals.

The bank has been under scrutiny for years for its role in raising US$6.5 billion for 1MDB and for the fees and commissions it earned from the bonds. 1MDB is at the center of a global scandal involving claims of embezzlement and money laundering, which have triggered investigations in the US, Singapore, Switzerland and beyond.

"I would be happy if we can get around 30 per cent net after all the expenses incurred" from the entire 1MDB scandal, he said, referring to the overall amount of funds thought to be lost through the troubled state fund. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has set a goal of bringing back US$4.5 billion.

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Goldman has consistently said that it believed proceeds of the debt it underwrote were for development projects and that Leissner, its former Southeast Asia chairman, withheld information from the firm. Leissner said in his guilty plea unveiled on Friday that others at the bank helped him conceal bribes used to retain business in Malaysia.

Michael DuVally, a Goldman spokesman in New York, didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on Mr Lim's interview.

It's unclear how Malaysia plans to regain the fees that Goldman got, and Dr Mahathir said in June that the government would pursue legal action if there is a case. There are ongoing discussions about recovering money from financial institutions including Goldman, Malaysia's leader-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim told Bloomberg last week. The decision will be made by Malaysia's attorney-general, Mr Lim said Monday.

1MDB's bonds were sold at a "much higher" yield than what was the market rate at that time, and Malaysia will also seek from Goldman losses that stemmed from the interest-rate differential, Mr Lim said.

Recouping the 1MDB funds would require tracing assets bought using the money, with Malaysian authorities focused on locating Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, who has been described by investigators as a central figure in the 1MDB transactions.

Records show that Low, who remains at large, isn't in China on a Malaysian passport as previously thought, Mr Lim told the BFM radio station. It is unclear if Low entered the country using different travel documents, he said. Chinese authorities have been cooperative, with Mr Lim adding that he hoped they would help if Low had managed to slip into the country.

"It is a matter of trying to determine where he is first before we can ask other countries to help us to detain him and extradite him back to Malaysia if there's an extradition agreement," Mr Lim said. "But so far, as I said, we are still relying on Interpol to locate this rather slippery character."

BLOOMBERG