Goldman Sachs banker’s relationship with Malaysian government under question

Tim Leissner, the Singapore-based chairman of Goldman Sachs’ Southeast Asia operations, has left the country on a leave of absence following allegations of bond sales from a state fund being paid directly to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The state fund — 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) — was set up with Leissner’s assistance in 2009 with the aim of expanding Kuala Lumpur and turning it into an economic hub. Goldman Sachs was paid high commissions for bond sales.

In early 2015, the fund missed $11 billion (£7.5 billion) of payments it owed to banks and bondholders. Despite this, $681 million (£470 million) was transferred into the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s bank account from the fund by way of Saudi Arabia. The potential money-laundering allegations span 5 countries and are currently being investigated. Goldman Sachs may have to face a congressional inquiry as a result.

The fund is being used as illustration of the perhaps too friendly relationship Goldman Sachs has with various governments.

The sum of three bond sales for 1MDB back in 2012 and 2013, totalling $6.5 billion, reportedly yielded fees, commissions and expenses for Goldman of almost $593 million, the equivalent of 9.1% of the money raised. The typical cut for an investment bank is about 5%.

Government officials want more answers on the source of the $681 million.

1MDB has been criticised in the past for borrowing as much as $11 billion to finance questionable acquisitions. More than half of this figure reportedly came from bond deals underwritten by Goldman Sachs.