Goldman Banker Who Set Up Slush Fund For Malaysian PM Takes "Personal Leave"

On Tuesday we learned that Malaysian PM Najib Razak won’t have too much explaining to do domestically when it comes to why Saudi Arabia decided in 2013 to make a $681 million “donation” to his personal bank account.

Najib’s political opponents have accused the PM of deliberately undermining an investigation into where the money came from. The public has also angrily asked for transparency and in August, street protests led by former PM Mahathir Mohamad were held in Kuala Lumpur. "I don’t believe it is a donation,” Mahathir said at the time. “I don’t believe anybody would give [that much], whether an Arab, or anybody."

No, probably not.

In short, no one is buying Najib’s story except, apparently, Malaysia’s top prosecutor Attorney General Mohamed Apandi who ordered the probe into the transfer closed earlier this week.

Like many other Malaysians, Mahathir has some questions for Apandi and Najib. Here are a few:

  • "It seems there was a letter by a Saudi stating that a sum of US$681 million or RM2.08 billion was a donation for the PM’s contribution to the fight against Islamic terrorists. Who is this Arab?
  • “How does he have the huge sum of money to give away?”
  • “What is his business?”
  • “What is his bank?”
  • “How was the money transferred?”
  • “What documents prove these?”
  • Just a letter from a deceased person or some non-entity is enough for the A-G?"

And some more:

  • "How and when was this done?”
  • “We are told the balance is frozen by Singapore. Can Singapore explain the unfreezing and the delivery back to the Saudis?
  • “Or does Singapore also believe in the free gift story, the letter and the Saudi admission?"

All great questions. Questions which will likely never be answered. 

As those who have followed the 1MDB story will recall, the fund has strong ties to Goldman and more specifically to Tim Leissner, chairman of the bank's Southeast Asia ops. 

1MDB was set up by Najib six years ago and has been the subject of intense scrutiny for borrowing $11 billion to fund questionable acquisitions. $6.5 billion of that debt came from three bond deals underwritten by Goldman and orchestrated by Leissner, who is married to hip hop mogul Russell Simmons’ ex-wife Kimora Lee who, in turn, is good friends with Najib’s controversial wife Rosmah Manso.

What Goldman did, apparently, is arrange for three private placements, one for $3 billion and two for $1.75 billion each back in 2013 and 2012, respectively. Goldman bought the bonds for its own book at 90 cents on the dollar with plans to sell them later at a profit.

Now, just as Najib is cleared by Malaysia's top prosecutor and amid multiple 1MDB investigations unfolding in other countries, Tim Leissner is taking a leave of absence from Goldman and is leaving Singapore for Los Angeles. 

"Leissner, who has been with Goldman Sachs for almost 18 years and was most recently Singapore-based chairman of its Southeast Asia operations, remains an employee," Bloomberg reports. "The bank’s dealings with the country’s state-owned investment company, 1Malaysia Development Bhd., drew public scrutiny because of the high fees Goldman was paid."

"His departure comes as Najib Razak, Malaysia’s prime minister, fights to extricate himself from a donations scandal alleged to be linked to the investment fund, known as 1MDB," FT adds. "[Leissner's] close relationships with top officials in Kuala Lumpur produced what one executive described as a 'golden period' for the bank."

The ubiquitous "people familiar with the matter" say Goldman was unhappy with the amount of time Leissner spent in Los Angeles where his wife is busy building a fashion business.

Whether or not Leissner's leave and decision to high tail it out of Singapore has anything to do with the 1MDB scandal is an open question, but the timing certainly looks curious. 

Incidentally, Leissner will have plenty of places to stay in L.A.

Najib's stepson and Jho Low (described as a "close family friend") own a $39 million mansion on Oriole Drive in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, the L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills, a home in Beverly Hills known as the pyramid house for a gold pyramid in its garden, as well as other properties in the Los Angeles area.