(Jan 31): Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim demanded that Goldman Sachs Group Inc honour its settlement with the government for its role in the 1MDB scandal, saying the Wall Street firm shouldn’t use its financial strength to dictate terms.
The abuse of the sovereign state fund was made possible because of “complicity” from institutions such as Goldman Sachs, Anwar told Bloomberg Television’s Haslinda Amin in his first interview with international media since becoming prime minister.
“My only appeal is for them to settle this deal with Malaysia because 1MDB is known throughout the world,” Anwar said on Monday (Jan 30) in Singapore. “It is there in the books and I think that Goldman Sachs should come out clean and deal with Malaysia.”
State development fund 1MDB became the centre of a multi-billion dollar scandal that spawned probes in Asia, the US and Europe. Goldman Sachs in 2020 admitted its role in the biggest foreign bribery case in US enforcement history, reaching multiple international settlements in the billions of dollars to end probes into its fundraising for 1MDB.
The Malaysian government in 2018 turned its attention to Goldman Sachs for its work raising US$6.5 billion in 2012 and 2013 for 1MDB, formally known as 1Malaysia Development Bhd. The bonds were earmarked for redevelopment but all but US$2 billion of the money was diverted to pay bribes to government officials, US federal prosecutors said.
Authorities spent years tracking funds that allegedly flowed from 1MDB into high-end art and real estate, a super yacht and, ironically, the hit Hollywood movie The Wolf of Wall Street, chronicling an earlier era of financial crimes.
The settlement announced in July 2020 called for Goldman Sachs to pay US$2.5 billion while guaranteeing the return of US$1.4 billion of 1MDB assets seized by authorities around the world, in exchange for Malaysia dropping charges against the bank.
Goldman must also make a one-time interim payment of US$250 million if Malaysia has not received at least US$500 million in assets and proceeds by August 2022, according to the bank. However, the two disagree over whether the government had received the US$500 million in proceeds by the August deadline, Goldman Sachs said in a filing last year.
The bank in the filing had also accused Malaysia of having “unilaterally reduced” the value of one asset by US$80 million, while declining to include substantial additional assets in accounting of assets and proceeds recovered.
“Given a fair deal, we are supposed to be paid much more than that, which I intend to deal with them if these things are not settled amicably,” said Anwar in response to Goldman’s claims. “It’s not my intention — I’m just new in the game. I just want to settle old scores, in the sense of old commitments that we have made. We have to move on.”
A Goldman Sachs spokesman referred Bloomberg News to the firm’s 10Q filing when reached for comment.
At the time of its filing, Goldman Sachs had said the parties had a three-month window to try and resolve the dispute. The matter would be settled by arbitration should no resolution be reached.
“But if they come and pressure us with this, I will have no choice because I have a mandate from my people, and people are struggling to live and you with your hundreds of billions of profit and squandering, you can’t just get away by ignoring your moral responsibility and financial responsibility,” Anwar said.
In the wide-ranging interview, the Malaysian prime minister said he was working on cleaning Malaysia’s image after having inherited a country tainted by scandal and graft.
“It’s not just 1MDB, but the corruption is systemic, as I’ve said, which means it cuts across a whole spectrum, particularly of the political elite, and therefore you have to set a good example,” Anwar said.
This meant being consistent on opposing graft and abuse, and ending the practice of awarding projects through direct negotiations, he said. “What we need to do is regain that trust and be seen and honestly attempt to do the right thing,” Anwar said.
Since taking office, Anwar announced a review of billions of ringgit worth of government projects that past administrations had approved, including flood mitigation plans and pandemic assistance packages. The government could save about RM10 billion in the procurement system, he had said on Jan 17.
Still, Anwar had to contend with public backlash this week for appointing his daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar, as a senior adviser on economy and finance. The 42-year-old lost her seat in the Nov 19 general election after serving as a lawmaker for two terms.
Former prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the appointment was unprecedented of a premier, and urged Anwar to advise Nurul to step down.
Anwar has consistently defended his decision, saying his daughter was working with “many other colleagues” to dismantle corruption. There was no question of her accepting government contracts, projects, or even an allowance, he said.
“I do accept some criticisms, including from my friends who are a bit concerned,” Anwar said. “But I have to tell them look, she’s not being paid and she can deliver. It’s not an abuse of position.”
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