Prosecutors seek court change for Goldman Sachs's 1MDB trial

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Malaysia Corruption

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, center, arrives at Kuala Lumpur High Court in Kuala Lumpur, on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. Najib is facing 42 charges of corruption, abuse of power and money laundering in five separate criminal cases linked to the multibillion-dollar looting of 1MDB. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian prosecutors Tuesday sought a court change for Goldman Sachs's criminal trial over its role in the alleged multibillion-dollar ransacking of state investment fund 1MDB.

Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, a lawyer for Goldman, said prosecutors informed the magistrate court now hearing the case that they had applied to transfer it to the high court. He said the lower court scheduled an update on the transfer to be heard Dec. 16.

Prosecutors didn't give any reasons for the transfer but a move to a higher court usually reflects the seriousness of the case.

Malaysian and U.S. prosecutors allege bond sales organized by Goldman Sachs for 1MDB provided one of the means for associates of former Malaysian leader Najib Razak to steal billions from a fund that was ostensibly set up to accelerate Malaysia's economic development.

Three Goldman subsidiaries and two former executives were charged in December for alleged breaches of securities laws including making false, misleading statements to investors. Another 17 current and former directors at Goldman were charged in August in an expanded sweep as the alleged crime occurred under their watch.

Hisyam declined to comment on the allegations. Goldman has not entered pleas to the charges.

In January, Goldman CEO David Solomon apologized to the Malaysian people for former banker Tim Leissner's role in arranging the bond sales for 1MDB. Solomon has said the investment bank conducted due diligence but was misled by Leissner and former Malaysian government officials.

Leissner, who headed Goldman's operations in Southeast Asia, pleaded guilty in the U.S. last year to money laundering conspiracy and conspiring to violate foreign bribery laws.

Malaysia's government has said the apology was insufficient and that Goldman must pay $7.5 billion as compensation.

Najib set up 1MDB when he took office in 2009, but it accumulated billions in debts and U.S. investigators allege at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by Najib's associates.

Public anger over the alleged corruption contributed to the shocking election defeat of Najib's long-ruling coalition in May 2018. Najib is now on trial for multiple charges of corruption over the 1MDB case and was in the same court building Tuesday for his second trial. Najib denies the charges. His wife and stepson also have been charged over the scandal.