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Goldman Sachs could wind up paying twice for 1MDB

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Goldman Sachs may wind up paying twice for 1MDB. Abu Dhabi's sovereign fund is suing the US investment bank in New York for its role in the Malaysian fund scandal. The damages sought could exceed Goldman's average annual net profit over three years of US$5.4 billion.

[MUMBAI] Goldman Sachs may wind up paying twice for 1MDB. Abu Dhabi's sovereign fund is suing the US investment bank in New York for its role in the Malaysian fund scandal. The damages sought could exceed Goldman's average annual net profit over three years of US$5.4 billion. The longer the fight drags out, the worse the fallout looks.

Aggrieved investors smell blood after former Goldman partner Tim Leissner pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money and other charges filed by US authorities. New revelations in The New York Times that then-chief executive Lloyd Blankfein met privately with Jho Low, the alleged mastermind of the scandal, alongside an Abu Dhabi fund executive will weaken any defence that this was the work of rogue employees.

Abu Dhabi's lawsuit comes on top of growing expectations of a hefty settlement with the US Department of Justice. Goldman could pay a fine of up to US$1.2 billion plus return US$600 million in fees and revenue the bank made arranging three 1MDB bonds, reckons a Morgan Stanley banks analyst. Two of those bonds were jointly guaranteed by International Petroleum Investment Company, which has now been folded into Mubadala, another Abu Dhabi fund.

The round-robin of accusations is growing. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's new administration in Malaysia wants back fees it paid Goldman, and is also trying to wriggle out of a separate settlement with Abu Dhabi it says is worth about US$5.8 billion. Under that London consent award, 1MDB and Malaysia agreed to take responsibility for the principal and interest of the US$3.5 billion IPIC-guaranteed bonds.

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Goldman is now caught in the middle as neither Abu Dhabi nor Malaysia wants to be left holding the embarrassing liabilities due in 2022. It's not clear how well Abu Dhabi's claim will hold up given it is also accusing others in the same lawsuit, including two of IPIC's own former top employees allegedly bribed by Goldman. The bank says it expects to vigorously contest the charges.

The emirate also has tried and failed to take on Wall Street before. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority lost its case against Citigroup over its US$7.5 billion crisis-era investment in the then-struggling mega-bank. The global stink around 1MDB, though, could yet put multiple squeezes on Goldman.

An Abu Dhabi sovereign fund on Nov 21 sued Goldman Sachs and others in a New York court to recover losses related to Malaysia's 1MDB sovereign fund.

The lawsuit alleges that the US investment bank conspired to bribe two officials of International Petroleum Investment Company and its Aabar unit. It adds that "in exchange for the bribes paid by Goldman Sachs and its co-conspirators" the officials agreed to manipulate and mislead IPIC and Aabar. Goldman said it expects to contest the claim vigorously.

IPIC agreed to jointly guarantee two bond issues, worth a total of US$3.5 billion, arranged by Goldman for the Malaysian fund in 2012. The bonds are due to mature in 2022.

As part of a 2017 London arbitration award, 1MDB and Malaysia's finance ministry agreed to assume responsibility for the principal and interest of the two bonds. Malaysia has now filed papers to set aside this settlement which it says is worth a total of US$5.8 billion.

The US Department of Justice has said about US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB between 2009 and 2014. Earlier in November, US prosecutors filed criminal charges against two former Goldman bankers. One, Tim Leissner, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

REUTERS