FROM the Malaysian Cabinet to the man-in-the-street in Kuala Lumpur or Penang, or even in Singapore, it’s close to unbelievable to hear Goldman Sachs Group blowing its own trumpet on “principles and credibility”.
In the strongest yet stand, and rather controversially, Goldman Sachs Group Inc chief executive officer David Solomon (above) has stoutly defended the firm’s culture and oversight as the bank faces more fallout from a high-profile corruption probe that has spanned continents.
“We believe our culture and our processes around our due diligence and compliance was strong at the time and is even stronger today,” Solomon said in a year-end message recorded for the firm’s employees.
“While we understand the anger and skepticism, we do not believe that the criticism directed at us accurately reflects who we were then or who we are now.”
Solomon’s statement comes after Malaysia filed the first criminal charge against the bank in a global corruption probe that is examining its role in allegedly aiding a historic heist of a Malaysian investment fund known as 1MDB. The firm is already in the thick of investigations by U.S. prosecutors and regulators over its conduct in the controversy.
Malaysia’s no-nonsense stand shook global markets as it is the first time a government has brought criminal charges against the bank, strictly over the 1MDB scandal.
Inevitably, Goldman Sachs’s global reputation has also taken an incredible negative beating, too, with its stock on track to be the worst performer on the Dow Jones Industrial Average this year, down 37% after falling another 4.6% Friday.
With the recent slump, it’s now the only major US bank trading below its November 2016 level, when President Donald Trump’s election win sparked a rally in bank stocks across Wall Street.
But blowing your own trumpets or beating the chests makes only for good reading. The truth of the matter is that they’re certainly headed for worse troubled waters.
Prosecutors from the United States to Singapore and Malaysia are aggressively probing the firm’s role raising about US$6.5bil for 1MDB. The fallout has become its thorniest scandal since the financial crisis. Last month, the US Justice Department revealed that a former partner pleaded guilty to bribery charges, his deputy was arrested and the firm put a top Asia banking executive on leave.
Solomon, who was the head of the investment-banking group at the time of the 1MDB fundraising, took over as CEO at the start of October. His predecessor, Lloyd Blankfein, remains as chairman through the end of December.
Catching even his staff by surprise, Solomon dedicated about half of his message to 1MDB, with the rest touching on the bank’s 2018 performance, growth initiatives and his thanks to Blankfein.
Regarding the controversy, the CEO said the firm conducted detailed due diligence on the bond offerings, and the revenue from the deals reflected the risk the firm took.
MALAYSIA’S ADAMANT STAND
“The firm’s record of asking tough questions and going the extra mile on all of our transactions, including 1MDB, is clear,” he said. “As to the facts of the 1MDB matter, there is a lot that I want to say but cannot say given the ongoing investigation.”
For the Malaysian government, the fingers are clearly pointed at the globally-famous investment bank for its handling of the 1MDB-related matters and Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng has demanded it return fees paid to it.
“I would be happy if we can get around 30 per cent net after all the expenses incurred [from the entire 1MDB scandal],” Lim said although Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad has set the objective of recouping all US$4.5 billion of misappropriated funds.
Tun Mahathir added: “There is evidence that Goldman Sachs has done things that are wrong. Obviously we have been cheated through the compliance by Goldman Sachs people.”