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Ex-Goldman Sachs banker tied to 1MDB scandal blames bank's 'culture' in guilty plea

An ex-Goldman Sachs banker who pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal money from Malaysia's state investment ...

Posted: Nov 10, 2018 12:17 PM
Updated: Nov 10, 2018 12:17 PM

An ex-Goldman Sachs banker who pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal money from Malaysia's state investment fund said Goldman's "culture" encouraged executives to work around the legal team to score business.

It was "very much in line of its culture of Goldman Sachs to conceal facts from certain compliance and legal employees," said Tim Leissner, Goldman's former Southeast Asia chairman, in his guilty plea from August, which was unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn Friday.

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Leissner admitted that he hid from Goldman the fact that Malaysian financier Jho Low secured business for the bank by bribing officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi. The US government alleges Low played a central role in a scheme to launder billions of dollars from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Last week, the US Justice Department announced charges against Leissner, Low and Roger Ng, another former Goldman banker. The agency said that Leissner would forfeit $43.7 million.

Goldman Sachs (GS) continues to face scrutiny for its role in the scandal.

The bank in 2012 and 2013 arranged three bond offerings for the 1MDB fund that raised about $6.5 billion, according to the court documents. The bank made about $600 million for its work, the Justice Department said.

More than $2.7 billion from those offerings was siphoned off, with the knowledge of Leissner and Ng, to bribe government officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi, according to the indictments. Leissner and Ng are said to have worked around internal legal and compliance controls at Goldman Sachs to make sure the deals would go through.

The business culture at Goldman "was highly focused on consummating deals, at times prioritizing this goal ahead of the proper orientation of its compliance functions," especially in Southeast Asia, government prosecutors said in their indictment of Low and Ng unsealed last week.

The legal team at Goldman had raised concerns about Low in the past, the indictment said.

A Goldman Sachs spokesperson said the firm continues to cooperate with all authorities investigating the matter.

Ng was arrested last week in Malaysia, according to the Justice Department, and has not yet entered a plea. He could not be reached for comment. Low, who maintains his innocence, remains at large. A spokesperson for his legal team said Low held no formal position at 1MDB and was neither employed by Goldman Sachs nor the governments of Malaysia or Abu Dhabi.

It's unclear if anyone else at the bank beyond Leissner and Ng knew about Low's involvement in the bond deals.

The Wall Street Journal on Friday reported that former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who stepped down from his role atop the bank in October, attended two meetings with Malaysia's former prime minister in 2009 and 2013 that included discussions of 1MDB. Low was present at both meetings, according to the Journal.

A source familiar with the matter said that Blankfein had no recollection of meeting Low, and it's unclear if Low was present at the two meetings.

Another Goldman banker, Andrea Vella, was placed on leave last week, pending a review of alleged conduct related to the 1MDB case. Vella had been demoted from his position as co-head of investment banking in Asia last month.

The Justice Department alleges a total of $4.5 billion was stolen from the 1MDB fund by high-level officials. US officials claim that laundered funds were pumped into New York condos, hotels, yachts and a jet, and used to fund Hollywood films such as "The Wolf of Wall Street."

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