By Brooke Masters, chief regulation correspondent

UPDATE: It turns out that the Deparment of Justice asked for the file. The SEC didn’t make the referral. The DoJ request came after 62 members of Congress wrote to Eric Holder, attorney-general asking the DoJ to investigate Goldman.

The reports in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post that criminal prosecutors are now looking at the mortgage deal at the heart of the US Securities and Exchange Commission case against Goldman Sachs raise a key question: Why now?

The SEC is said formally to have referred the case to the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Such a step would not be unusual, but the timing would be.

Ordinarily, the SEC sends its evidence to prosecutors before filing its civil charges, not afterwards. That way, if the Justice Department does want to bring a criminal case, the two actions can be filed simultaneously. There are lots of good procedural reasons for doing it this way, so the two cases do not interfere with one another.

So, why act now? Read more