Even if it is unproven that top Goldman executives knew what was going on, what does it say about the culture of the bank that individuals like Tim Leissner were employed there? Who is accountable for that culture?
By Ben Chu and cross posted from The Independent
Even by Wall Street standards of gouging customers this was one hell of a skim.
In 2012 and 2013, the Malaysian government was raising $6.5bn (£5bn) from investors to establish a sovereign wealth fund and finance various domestic infrastructure investment projects. And the cut for Goldman Sachs – the most prestigious investment bank in the world – for arranging the fundraising from the global capital markets? Ten per cent, or $600m.
Now we can have a guess as to why the Malaysian authorities were so insouciant about those extortionate fundraising costs: because they themselves were, apparently, going to loot the pot in one of the biggest frauds in history.
Around half of the fund has gone missing. According to the US Justice Department a fair amount has been pumped into luxury American real estate and shady art auction bids. Appropriately, some went into investing in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
At one stage $680m mysteriously appeared in the bank account of the former Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, who chaired the 1MDB advisory board, and who is now charged in his own country with corruption.
Malaysian politicians, officials and financiers had effectively bought Goldman Sachs’ blue chip reputation to pull in naive investors to the “1MDB” state investment fund. Ten per cent probably seemed a reasonable cut in the circumstances.
The question is: what did Goldman know about the theft?
The bank claims today that it was completely oblivious. But the senior Goldman banker on the ground in Malaysia, Tim Leissner, certainly knew. He pleaded guilty in New York to financial crimes related to 1MDB last week, including bribery of officials to ensure Goldman was the sole fundraiser…