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Goldman Sachs Ensnarled in Vast 1MDB Fraud Scandal (nytimes.com)
354 points by SREinSF 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 103 comments

>The money was used to buy a Picasso painting, diamond necklaces and Birkin bags as well as to pay for the Hollywood blockbuster “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

A scam that funded a movie about scams? True life is stranger than fiction.

A movie that spent two hours depicting the luxuries bought by scams and zero minutes depicting the real consequences for those that got scammed.

With a quick reminder at the end that you can to this day go pay somebody to teach you how to do it yourself.

The screen adaptations of Gordon Gecko, Patrick Bateman and Jordan Belfort's stories make me think that a lot changes between the time production starts on a screenplay and when the cinema reels roll off the assembly lines.

Studio execs do test screens and decide to glamorize the debauchery to extreme levels and give it tons of screen time, because "that's what the people want".

So at the end of the movie, you no longer merely empathize with the antagonist, but end up idolizing him. Why else do college bros know the "Greed is Good" speech by heart? Or Bateman's opening monologue in his apartment?

Probably true. But I'm reminded that when Michael Lewis wrote his first book, 'Liar's Poker', he viewed it as a cautionary tale and a polemic against the behaviors he saw on Wall Street. He was surprised that its readers took it more as an instruction manual and an invitation to participate.

EDIT: Found the link to the interview I'm misquoting. Here's the original passage:

"I had no great agenda, apart from telling what I took to be a remarkable tale, but if you got a few drinks in me and then asked what effect I thought my book would have on the world, I might have said something like, “I hope that college students trying to figure out what to do with their lives will read it and decide that it’s silly to phony it up and abandon their passions to become financiers.” I hoped that some bright kid at, say, Ohio State University who really wanted to be an oceanographer would read my book, spurn the offer from Morgan Stanley, and set out to sea.

Somehow that message failed to come across. Six months after Liar’s Poker was published, I was knee-deep in letters from students at Ohio State who wanted to know if I had any other secrets to share about Wall Street. They’d read my book as a how-to manual."


It's not the students that are hopelessly greedy I'm afraid. It's just that they're conditioned - living in such a competitive, second is first of the losers kind of society - to go with whatever provides them the safest path away from poverty and destitution.

I don't think it's restricted to students. To go back only a little bit in the history of things, I think Maslow was on to something with his hierarchy of needs. When you're safe and fed, and cared about, you have some room to work on self-actualization. Not so much when you're scared and hungry. Money's not safety or food, but a steady stream of it is a good proxy in these days. To go back a little further, I'm thinking of John Adams quote "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."

Yup, pretty much so. That’s why I feel this “winner takes all” feature of modern life is a very damaging one

Ergo, the natural consequences of capitalism.

I worked for a prominent hedge fund (20B USD AUM at the time) for 9 years and never first hand witnessed any excesses.

There was always the third hand accounts of something happening. I did work in backoffice IT and not for one of the desks, so not odd I wouldn't have seen anything firsthand.

Probably closest I saw to show of wealth would be the rare occasions I drove in and parked in the building. You'd see a few Ferraris parked even in the middle of winter in Chicago, and that's not counting the CEOs cars that were kept behind a keycarded garage within the garage.

And he wrote the "Undoing Project" to explain why this happens. Not his best book but a decent laymen intro for those interested in Behavioral Psychology.

It’s always easier to scapegoat “studio execs” whenever a production has ethical problems. In reality, smart folks like Coppola and Stone know how to play to certain audiences while still selling tickets to the less sophisticated. Most of their movies can be read in opposite terms and it’s absolutely on purpose.

I'm scapegoating the audience. They're the ones lapping this shit up. Bateman, Gecko and Belfort (I'll throw in Tyler Durden here as well) were all cautionary tales, they are sociopaths you want to avoid, not emulate.

But just the opposite has happened; they are revered by fans specifically for their lack of ethics because of how "badass" it came off on screen.

This is a problem that is somewhat well-known: If you send your message in esoteric terms it will be read by the great majority as a face value validation. Even some very direct statements tend to be read preferentially.

Whether this is problematic or not depends somewhat on your view of the world. I recommend Arthur Melzer, Philosophy Between the Lines for a much more thorough historical treatment of the subject. By his reckoning it goes back to the ancient Greeks, at least.

Unlike the others, American Psycho is clearly satirical in intent. I don’t think that anybody is ever reciting Bateman’s lines unironically.

His personal aesthetic care mantra has been repeated, unironically, all the time amongst some people I no longer hang out with. It's the "Gym Tan Laundry" (GTL from Jersey Shore) of its day.

Boiler Room did a much better job showing both sides of the coin.

That movie is rather unappreciated. Definitely worth a watch for folks that haven't seen it.

For a sense of the consequences I recommend Margin Call, which is my favorite Wall Street movie.

Real consequences which were? 22 months for those atrocities feels like nothing. What is there to depict?

To children: no shit they felt reinforced, the history has shown that this type of stuff goes almost unpunished.

Real consequences for those who got scammed, not the ones who did the scamming.

The conveyed message being: “Don’t be a sucker and get scammed, be the scammer instead!”

The ending where he was at a sales conference asking people to sell him a pencil was rather poignant about how far he fell, but you're right in that that message is missed by most audiences.

Scorsese crime dramas (e.g. Goodfellas, Casino) tend to have a flair for showing the the up-and-up side of crime with a very brief ending in reality. The Departed is an exception in that you saw the story from both "rats" sides, and the undercover cop had it much worse than the mole cop.

I took it as taking you along the ride and showing how easy someone could get caught up. Everyone has some kind of evil inside them, and you shouldn't be quick to judge.

Kind of the message of "Gulag Archipelago".

Well said. There were numerous reports of insiders cheering and feeling reinforced after watching that movie in theaters. Whereas the public, by only their sensibilities, saw the ill effects of that kind of business.

The book this movie is based on was written by Belford himself. What would people expect as a result? They decided to create a movie depicting the point of view of the thief.

Thank you. I downloaded it a long time ago but never was motivated enough to see it past the first 10 min or so. You confirmed my unconsious expactations. I just now deleted it.

For some reason, that movie never ever resonated with me, compared with other Wall Street movies like "The Big Short". What is it that people like about it?

I agree, The Big Short was insightful and you come out of it with a better understanding of the financial industry. The Wolf of Wall Street glossed over the financial information to focus on the debauchery, which to me is far less interesting.

Boiler Room and The Smartest Guys in the Room are my other go-to business movies.

Margin Call is a bit dry, but still entertaining.

Dramatically Margin Call was better than Big Short/Wolf, I thought. It was extremely tense, and and almost claustrophobic in its depiction of the ambience.

You might check out Rogue Trader if you haven't already.

Or watch "830 million pounds" which is also on Nick Leeson with the added bonus of being a documentary by Adam Curtis

That is supposed to be a bonus?

Well, at least they didn't start another famine[1]... this time.

Question: How does Goldman Sachs still get away with this stuff? Due to their lengthy rap sheet, multiple governments and every law enforcement agency in the world should be watching their every action. It's a safe bet they're going to do something illegal again... and again... and again. Why aren't they being caught in the act and stopped before they can waltz off with the profits? Why haven't they been shut down or barred from doing business in the jurisdictions they've screwed over? Malaysia is going after Goldman Sachs for reparations, but have they kicked the company out of Malaysia?


Well, once you realize that essentially, large American Fortune 500 companies are actively supported by its spy agency (hint: They Hate Snowden) through a veil of foreign aid and other friendly name sounding causes such as "volunteers of Amazonian language preservation of America" calling in military assets to put down a rebellion from the foreign country, that get in their way of the lootin of their country.

The book 'Confessions of Economic Hitman' perfectly illustrates a sort of "active measures" that take place with increasing lethal consequences for those that oppose them.

    1. identify elites in a country (ex. bankers, biz ppl)

    2. lucrative contracts and monopoly handed out to elites via government.

    3. profit???

    4. If no profit, use bribe to corrupt key players.

    5. If still no profit, send in the jackals (what EH calls professional assassins), put poison in cigars, drone strike.

    6. If tradecraft fails, then they put boots on the ground. 
South America is a very good example. It's been thoroughly pillaged by American corporations now for over a century, which has given rise to narco-economy.


> Question: How does Goldman Sachs still get away with this stuff?

Answer: Because there's a history of Goldman Sachs executives going from Wall Street to Washington DC (Government) taking up top positions - ex: Paulson as Treasury Secretary - so they can create and change Laws to suit their business.

In short, it's like a Thief who gets himself appointed as the Judge for his own Trial.

> As the man who presided over the biggest market meltdown in recent U.S. history, he has become a symbol of two worlds colliding—he's the Goldman Sachs CEO who came to Washington and then had to bail out his old friends on Wall Street.

Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/hank-pa...

Related: [2009] Why Goldman Always Wins => https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/10/why-gol...

Piketty calls them supermamagers. This is interesting https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-supermanagerial-reic...

A bit verbose, but very insightful.

> How does Goldman Sachs still get away with this stuff?

When reality doesn't agree with logic, it's time to examine your premises.

In this case, the premise that there is any force on the planet more powerful than concentrated money and power. Who, exactly, is going to stop them?

Their "alumni" run the organizations that are supposed to prosecute them.

Are they? The article says they have one guilty plea and have charges against another. And they are still investigating GS (and other banks).

From the article:

> The authorities said that at least one high-ranking executive in the bank’s Asian operations was aware of the scheme, which dodged Goldman’s systems to detect the payment of bribes. That person, unidentified in the court filings, has not been charged. According to three people familiar with the matter, the executive was Andrea Vella, who was the co-head of Goldman’s Asian investment banking business.

>Federal prosecutors said Tim Leissner, a former Goldman investment banker who spent years courting Mr. Low, pleaded guilty in August to taking part in the bribery and money laundering scheme. He left the firm in 2016 after the scandal first emerged.

So it seems like rogue employees (since they had to hide from the company) and not some orchestrated thing where GS (as a company, under the direction of a lot of execs and everyone being on board) actually planned and executed.

At most, they'll pay a modest fine and admit no wrongdoing and repeat we go. It always seems like a rouge employee.

The worst part of all this is that so many super smart people actually want to work in a company like this.

Money buys anything. This works everywhere

I've heard that subsidiaries of the big accounting firms are essentially separate companies and really just share the firms name, I'm not sure if that's true or not but in the case of the main Wall Street firms, its most definitely is not.

Goldman is Goldman everywhere which makes this more concerning.

Even more troubling are reports that the new GS CEO, David Solomon, reviewed multiple of the 1MDB deals. To be fair its not clear if he personally reviewed them or they were just a meeting note in a senior partners meeting.

Going in GS favour is that they fired Leissner, the GS point man, when the allegations originally came out in 2016 and they self reported the incident, though its not clear if they reported it before the original incident was first reported on.

I'd imagine since GS is blaming the bankers ability to circumvent internal controls to catch bribes and kick backs, that things are about to get even more bureaucratic over there.

Speculation Also watch for any indication of events that can tie this to the Euro zone. I have a feeling regulators in Europe would love to lay a large fine on a US bank, given how many fines European banks have paid in the US recently:)

A research note I just saw, estimated this could cost GS more than $1B in fines in the US alone.

The Big Four are indeed organised as groups. A headquarters entity (three in London, but KPMG is instead based in the Netherlands) owns the name, and then hundreds of notionally independent companies in other countries around the world use that name under license (for a fee and other conditions).

In practice obviously that headquarters organisation has considerable control, and key people merrily teleport from one "independent company" to another over their careers.

The appropriate word to describe them is probably "corrupt". If I can have two words, how about "very corrupt" ?

A better phrase might be 'multinational partnership'.

Big accountancy and legal firms have good historical reasons for those corporate structures.

Re: the subs of accounting firms, you are absolutely correct. It's not totally unheard of for those firms to switch between affiliate firms as they become unhappy with the relationship.

They basically license the brand out, whether they're willing to acknowledge it or not.

1) Send a staff member from the target country to grease the wheels of the local government officials

2) If that doesn't work, bribe them outright

3) Take a piece of the gargantuan bond issue contract, do whatever it takes to get people to buy those pieces of paper, including cooking the books

4) Collect year-end bonus and absolve yourself of all responsibility after the deal is done.

It's the same playbook every time. Greece in 1999, Libya in the post-Gaddafi era, and now Malaysia. Probably many others that I'm not even aware of.

Yes. Reference for the second example:

"Hot Mess: How Goldman Sachs Lost $1.2 Billion of Libya’s Money"


I somehow hadn’t heard about this one, but seriously, this is just... I have no words.

But the part that has completely blown my mind, ... Jho Lo is a fugitive!

Federal law enforcement in this country has become a total laughing stock. High profile arrests/pleas for process crimes and 7-day sentences after multi-million dollar investigations, and then this.

Where was Treasury? Where was FinCEN? Where were the Feds?

To say nothing of the apparently hundreds of people implicated in receiving stolen property. If you receive gifts worth millions of dollars which was stolen money, I mean are they even trying to claw back any of these millions from the “stars” he lavished?

To say nothing of the investors who actually bought the bonds of the now bankrupt fund?

“A billion here, a billion there, eventually you’re talking about real money.”

This guy is a financial terrorist. If you can’t extradite him, legally designate him an enemy combatant and take him out with a Hellfire.

> are they even trying to claw back any of these millions from the “stars” he lavished?

They did:

> Australian supermodel Miranda Kerr has turned over jewelry worth $8.1 million to the U.S. Department of Justice that she received from an ex-boyfriend, Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, in 2014.

> Leonardo DiCaprio has already turned over a Picasso painting worth $3.2 million that he received as a birthday gift from Low as well as a Jean-Michel Basquiat collage valued at $9 million, both of which were listed in the June court filing.


Well I guess it’s a start. Now how about the rights and royalties for the movie?

IMO, they should be charged as co-conspirators in the fraud.

How, exactly, were they to know the gifts were purchased using fraudulent money?

At the time they would have received those gifts, Jho Low was believed by most of the world to just be an extremely successful businessman.

Although not by Goldman’s compliance department, if the article is to be believed...

> Now how about the rights and royalties for the movie

If you would have bother to read the article you'd have seen they also did that:

> Last year, the Department of Justice moved to seize the rights to the Oscar-nominated film and recover royalties and proceeds from the film.

Apologies. I started reading, realized I had no idea what this story was about and ended up reading the background story linked by empath75. By that point I was fuming and back here writing my comment. RTFA fail.

If you couldnt take laundered money you cannot take any money in the world.

Hellfires are for Muslim weddings in Afghanistan, this guy gets a job in the government.

If you want to execute people for stealing money, you will find many people who think you a greater evil than the thief.

I don't care either way, but surely you are aware that in the Western world execution is considered highly inappropriate for non violent crimes?

If I read the article well :

>>> This guy is a financial terrorist.

This is not a guy, it's a system.

I found this link that lists all the fines Goldman has paid since 2000, which is $9.6B.


Is that just a Cost of Doing Business to them?

Nice website, and they only rank #9. Good job BofA: https://violationtracker.goodjobsfirst.org/top-100-parents

So in the middle of the mortgage crisis, Bank of America bought American’s biggest mortgage company, Countrywide, (one on in five home loans in the US). It seemed like a deal to the BOA CEO, since Countrywide’s stock price had fallen to 16% of its high value, the BOA cash reserves would make people trust Countrywide’s financial position again, and the making bad loans had stopped. He figured BOA would then dominate the post-crash lending market, and rushed the deal through.

Well turns out that Countrywide was not only in financial trouble, which cost BOA billions on top of the purchase price, but had been deliberately saying loans were better than they were and selling those loans to others. The fine was the biggest fine ever in the history of the United State. After the acquisition, BOA paid a 16.5 billion fine, a 10 billion fine, and a 9 billion fine related to Countrywide. And those are just the big ones.

The BOA CEO was fired.

BoA may have been forced to buy Countrywide:


How could there be zero tobacco companies on this list? They're paying over $200 billion in total.

Edit: apparently it's only for fines issued after 2000 and the big tobacco settlement was in 1998.

There wasn't a year after the global financial crisis which started in 2007 when one or more major banks were not involved in some major scandals, even after all the bailouts and "we'll behave from now on promises": Libor fixing, FX fixing, HSBC money laundering, UBS helping rich clients evade taxes, and so on.

I can't think of any other industry where year after year the same 4 or 5 actors are involved in major scandals, yet not one single senior executive goes to jail.

As the US general attorney put it, they really are "too big to jail", and they behave accordingly.

To be clear, this isnt a GS scandal, this is a Malaysian scandal.

Goldman just gets more clicks.

I mean, bribing gov. Officials is baf, but the bank issued bonds. The fund was plundered by others.

You must be kidding if you think this is just a Malaysian thing. Nobody does scammy business with a major company like GS without them having a cut of the action. If there is one thing that Wall Street execs are not is stupid. And of course the justice system knows it, otherwise they wouldn't bring changes against them.

I really dislike the title for this article. The way the NYTimes wrote it it's could be reasonable to assume that GS was just walking along one day and some really terrible fraud scandal jumped out and grabbed hold of it. It is worded to imply GS was related to the scandal but avoids implying they had anything to do with actually causing it.

Guilt and liability aren't the job of NYT to resolve but they phrased this very poorly.

(FYI, before down votes, I'm not anti-NYT and this isn't meant to be favoring either side of the political divide, it just seems like bad reporting)


nyt makes money out of these conferences at which Blankfein is a draw card. Does that mean the nyt are a pack of trumps? No. Is it a conflict of interest? I'm going to have to go with yes.

Seems like conflicts of interest are only applicable to journalists to keep them poor. Owners have no such restraints on them.

There is a fascinating book [0] that recently came out that describes Jho Low in a great detail, including the role of GS and the ex-prime minister of Malaysia.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B079WVJZCH/ref=oh_aui_d_de...

I also just read the book you linked (Billion Dollar Whale) about the 1MDB scandal. Highly recommended!

I will have to second that. The excessive spending made me cringe at times.

>The lengthy court filings by prosecutors in Brooklyn paint an ugly picture for Goldman, which was instrumental in raising money for the fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB.

Given the fund's affinity for Hollywood, I wonder if that abbreviation is meant to evoke "IMDB".

That is not the case, since 1MDB wasn't supposed to fund anything in Hollywood. It was sold to the public as a unified state fund similar to the Norwegian oil fund. The funds from 1MDB were fraudulently directed to another bank account that was then used to fund all kinds of things, especially extravagant parties and a Hollywood film.

Well of course they were. What exactly made anyone think they'd actually changed anything, other than time and a bit of marketing? What they were doing at the time of the financial crisis was illegal then, and this is illegal now.

It turns out when the financial incentive is big enough, people will commit crimes! Especially when they're in an institution that seems to prize making money and "being clever" above following the law.

Reminds me of what Goldman Sachs did with Libya.


Not long after Libya's response, you get regime change. I'm sure it was just coincidence

Yes. They even have an "Extraction Team"[1] that rescues their Rainmakers from conflict zones...

> #GoldmanSachs had extraction team?"Call in @GS special forces from hotel in Libya"

[1] Source: https://twitter.com/KevinRKelly_/status/781898792148742144

Related: Goldman's Libya Salesman Was a Little Too Good. Complex derivatives sometimes go wrong for the simplest reasons. => https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2016-09-29/goldma...

Funny how we say Goldman "is ensnarled in scandal" rather than "perpetuated a vast fraud".

Almost makes it sound as if the real news isn't their reprehensible actions, but the fact that they got caught! (Or even that the government is slowing them down with annoying charges).

The question is to what extent this is institutional rather than fraudulent actions of a few individuals. It probably is institutional, of course, but innocent until proven guilty and all that.

Well, what do you expect from Goldman Sachs at this point? If they were, at any point in the last 10 years, probably in the clear that'd be shocking.

The only reason the people working there don't feel the need to stand up when they hear Eminem is that they're not slim enough.

"Goldman’s chairman, Lloyd Blankfein, sought to frame the matter as the misdeeds of rogue employees. “These are guys who evaded our safeguards, and lie, stuff like that’s going to happen,”

Of course, it is very convenient to get the money of corrupt deals made by top execs, and then later claim they didn't know anything about how they did it. What about returning all that money and putting them in jail, for a change?

>>“These are guys who evaded our safeguards, and lie, stuff like that’s going to happen,” Mr. Blankfein said

Safeguards written in stone, no doubt. In the article it said that they made $600 MILLION in a $6 Billion bond offering. I'm sure those that wrote the safeguards were thinking of them, not of the $600 MILLION profit in one shot.

"The money was used to buy [...] as well as to pay for the Hollywood blockbuster “The Wolf of Wall Street.”" Gold.

>the Malaysian businessman they believe stole some of the money: Jho Low

Would Jho Low be pronounced "YOLO"?

Reminder that GS also helped the corrupt Greek government hide its debts in order to join the Euro. This is not an aberrant behavior for GS, just business as usual.

Many articles were written about this :


So this concerns events that happened in Malaysia, why is the Brooklyn prosecutor office involved? Because of "The Wolf of Wall Street"?

Goldman Sachs in an American bank, headquartered in New York City. The bank is subject to the laws of the US, and of New York.

The events "happened in Malaysia" only in some very abstract sense that some key players may have been located in Malaysia at some points. The bank though, concretely, remains an American bank throughout. Nobody is going to tell a court that oh, this was actually a Malaysian thing, it's OK for American banks to be corrupt so long as somehow Malaysia is involved, that's fine...

Malaysia was way more involved than that. The money in question comes from Malaysian tax payers, and the former prime minister Najib is under arrest because it looks like he channeled $700m of it into his own pockets.

Yes, but the company in question is GS, which is headquartered in New York.

It is a federal felony for an American citizen to bribe a foreign official in the course of doing business. Especially if that business involves a company regulated by the SEC.


Put in place after the Lockheed Bribery Scandals in the 1970s.


Which incidentally involved Adnan Kashoggi, the uncle of the recently deceased Jamal Kashoggi.

If I'm reading this right it's because the journey the money took while being laundered went through several US financial systems and was orchastrated by the US branch of Goldman Sachs.

Or it may just be the fact that some of Jho Lows property being seized is on US soil, and hence is under the juristiciation of US law enforcement; this whole thing is kinda hard to follow.

Looking forward to reading Matt Taibbi's write up of this latest vampire squid 'entanglement'...

Given that "Wolf of Wall Street" was written by the Wolf himself, it is not surprising that the trail of corruption goes back to Wall Street again. He was probably in friendly terms with the financiers of this movie.

For those that enjoy content in audio form check out the article on BingeWith: http://bingewith.com/#id1180

It never ends with Goldman Sachs does it?

They are a parasite on this earth.

The cynic in me think it's very bad press for capitalism. That kind of news is really gold for populists who are against capitalism.

And honestly, how could you really defend capitalism politically? Public opinion does not miss on that kind of thing.

Well, it’s not like what they were doing was legal and there’s nothing that can be done about it. In fact, America’s aggressive anti-bribery laws seem to be semi-working here with some folks slated to go to jail. I saw semi-working because they didn’t prevent it in the first place.

I don’t know if you can sketch a broad condemnation of capitalism based on this case. After all, the opposite party was a government owned fund.

What’s interesting to me is how susceptible to bribery government affiliated programs are. I guess it’s a combination of lots of money being handled by people who are not officially compensated very well. These kickback stories never seem to involve big companies bribing other companies. I assume that’s because of stricter controls and less incentives for those on the receiving end of a kickback.

diamond necklaces and Birkin bags as well as to pay for the Hollywood blockbuster “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Najib Razak,

what an ironic movie choice

Cynical, not ironic.

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