Goldman Sachs could be liable for $5B in Malaysian scandal

Goldman Sachs may be on the hook for as much as $5 billion for its role in a Malaysian bribery scandal — twice previous estimates of a worst-case scenario, according to a report.

The Wall Street behemoth — which helped raise about $6.5 billion for the 1Malaysia Development Berhad, better known as 1MDB — faces increasing heat from regulators, federal prosecutors, and the Asian country over the deal, whose proceeds largely paid for bribes to government officials and the lavish lifestyle of playboy financier Jho Low.

Goldman will likely be forced to forfeit $600 million it made in fees, pay at least $1.2 billion in fines to the SEC, and at least another $2.7 billion in money returned to Malaysia, according to an interview with Peter Henning, a former criminal prosecutor at the Justice Department, which was published in a Thursday research report from Wells Fargo.

The rest would likely be doled out to other agencies investigating the bank, Henning said.

The sentiments were echoed by Wells Fargo analyst Mike Mayo, who has been critical of Goldman’s involvement.

“There is no way to minimize the mishap with 1MDB, and now it is a matter of assigning blame and the degree,” said Mayo, reckoning that charges could range anywhere between $300 million and $5 billion in a “worst-case scenario.”

Last month, UBS estimated that Goldman’s liability would top out at around $2.5 billion — one of the highest estimates at the time.

The staggering new liability estimates come despite the fact that government prosecutors are less willing to impose sky-high penalties than in previous years, said Henning, who was also an investigator at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“The Justice Department and the SEC are unlikely to seek a large penalty in the current environment that takes into account the impact on shareholders who bear the ultimate burden of any penalty,” he said.

The funds allegedly embezzled by Low paid for luxury real estate, Basquiat paintings, a transparent piano for model Miranda Kerr and backing for the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Last month, Malaysia and Singapore opened criminal investigations into the bank, adding to the SEC, DOJ, Federal Reserve and New York Department of Financial Services investigations that were already ongoing.

In addition, Malaysia’s finance minister told the Financial Times it’s looking for $7.5 billion in reparations from the bank.

The scandal has sent company’s stock tumbling by more than 35 percent, to $176.00 on Thursday, from its all-time high of $273.38 in March.

Investors are bracing for next week’s fourth-quarter earnings report from Goldman and will be looking for guidance from CEO David Solomon, who briefly defended the bank in a holiday video last month, saying Goldman did “detailed due diligence” in its role.

“We will look for him to attempt to ease the market’s concerns about GS’s involvement with 1MDB and the potential ramifications,” another bank, Barclays, said in its investor note Thursday.

Michael DuVally, a Goldman spokesman, declined to comment.

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