Lloyd Blankfein Was the Unidentified Goldman Executive Present at 2009 1MDB Meeting

Years before Goldman Sachs Group Inc. arranged bond deals now at the heart of globe-spanning corruption probes, the firm’s then-CEO Lloyd Blankfein personally helped forge ties with Malaysia and its new sovereign wealth fund, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Blankfein was the unidentified high-ranking Goldman Sachs executive referenced in U.S. court documents who attended a 2009 meeting with the former Malaysian prime minister, the people said. The meeting was arranged with the help of men who are now tied to the subsequent plundering of the 1MDB fund, according to U.S. court documents unsealed last week.

The meeting at the Four Seasons hotel in New York was set up and attended by two key figures in the 1MDB scandal, Malaysian businessman Jho Low and former Goldman partner Tim Leissner, one person with direct knowledge of the matter said, asking not to be identified as the information isn’t public.

The high-level gathering laid the groundwork for a relationship that would prove profitable for the investment bank. Since then, the use of $6.5 billion that Goldman raised for 1MDB has sparked investigations across several nations, and entangled the U.S. bank in a high-profile corruption probe.

A spokesman for Goldman Sachs declined to comment on Blankfein’s behalf. The bank has said it believed proceeds of debt sales it underwrote were for development projects and that Leissner withheld information from the firm.

Low’s presence at the meeting with Blankfein, one of the most senior executives in global finance, illustrates the meteoric rise of a largely unknown financier who had managed to cultivate relationships with senior Malaysian government officials, including then-Prime Minister Najib Razak.

By the time of the meeting, Low’s lavish spending habits were New York tabloid fodder. Starting about two months before the meeting, according to U.S. filings, Leissner and another Goldman banker began a years-long effort to bring Low aboard as a client, a request that compliance workers at the firm consistently denied.

There’s no indication that Blankfein was aware of the internal assessments of Low, or knew the identities of all the people present at the meeting.

The documents filed by an FBI agent in June said that evidence supports Low was present at the meeting. The agenda for the November 2009 meeting was mapped out by Low and included a “debrief” with Najib and the “1MDB boys” after Goldman executives had left, the documents show.

Bloomberg | November 8, 2018