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Goldman Sachs CEO defends bank's culture amid 1MDB scandal

Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon offered a strong defense of the bank's culture Friday as the company fights ...

Posted: Dec 22, 2018 1:23 PM
Updated: Dec 22, 2018 1:23 PM

Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon offered a strong defense of the bank's culture Friday as the company fights a crisis over its role in Malaysia's multi-billion dollar embezzlement scandal.

"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 said in an end-of-the-year message to the firm's employees.

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He continued: "We believe our culture and our processes around our due diligence and compliance was strong at the time, and is even stronger today."

Goldman Sachs (GS) faces lawsuits and investigations tied to its role in raising money for Malaysia's sovereign wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

The Justice Department claims that conspirators misappropriated $4.5 billion from 1MDB, and has zeroed in on Goldman's role in the scheme.

Goldman orchestrated three large bond offerings for 1MDB in 2012 and 2013. The bond sales, which raised a total of $6.5 billion, earned Goldman Sachs a whopping $600 million in fees.

In the end, almost half of the money that Goldman raised for the fund was allegedly siphoned off to pay for jewelry and fine art, and to fund bribes and kickbacks to foreign officials, according to US officials.

The bank had repeatedly claimed that it was misled by rogue employees who intentionally deceived its legal and compliance teams.

Two former Goldman Sachs bankers who managed the 1MDB relationship have been charged by the Justice Department for their involvement in the conspiracy. One, the company's former chairman of Southeast Asia, has pleaded guilty and will be sentenced next year.

Concerns about 1MDB have spooked Goldman Sachs investors. Shares of the company have dropped about 34% this year.

Solomon said in his message Friday that he is "outraged that anyone from our firm could have participated in such blatant misconduct."

"The 1MDB bond offerings were generally meant to raise money for an entity intended to acquire and develop power assets to support the Malaysian economy. Instead, a huge portion of these funds was diverted," Solomon said. "We are and have always been committed to assisting government agencies in bringing to justice the people responsible for these crimes."

Solomon, who became CEO in October and is a former investment banker himself, also stood up for the firm's existing safeguards.

"There was detailed due diligence conducted by the firm and outside counsel on the bond offerings, including the use of proceeds," he said in the message. "What we did not anticipate was that a group of individuals and foreign officials would orchestrate such a brazen scheme."

The 1MDB scandal has clouded Solomon's first two months leading the bank, and has complicated the legacy of his predecessor, Lloyd Blankfein.

Goldman is grappling with more than a Justice Department investigation. The bank was sued for losses by an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund in November. The country of Malaysia filed criminal charges against the company earlier this week. Singapore has reportedly expanded its criminal probe into 1MDB to include the bank's actions. And the Federal Reserve is said to be probing Goldman's involvement in the saga.

One sticking point has been the large amount Goldman earned in fees on the deals. But Solomon justified the amount the bank charged 1MDB in his note, claiming the bank took on a lot of risk to make the bond sales happen.

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