Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon addressed the 1MDB scandal on the investment bank’s fourth quarter earnings call Wednesday, taking time to “apologize to the Malaysian people” for Goldman’s role in the scheme and claiming the bank was duped by “false assurances” over the nature of the fund.
Solomon, who succeeded Lloyd Blankfein as the bank’s chief executive in October, said Goldman has “established important facts” about its role in the scheme—namely that “the people of Malaysia were defrauded by many individuals, including the highest members of the prior government,” and that former Goldman partner Tim Leissner “by his own admission was one of those people.”
In looking back “to see if there’s anything we as a firm could have done better,” Solomon said Goldman conducted “considerable due diligence” but was deliberately misled by Leissner and the Malaysian government as to the nature of a scheme that saw billions of dollars allegedly stolen from the fund.
And on the notorious financier Jho Low—who remains a fugitive wanted by authorities for his role in the scandal—Solomon noted that the bank declined a request by Low to open a private wealth account in 2010 “because we could not verify the source of his wealth” and also turned down “other opportunities [Low] presented to us” in subsequent years.
Despite the scrutiny heaped upon Goldman as a result of its role in 1MDB, Solomon said he believes “morale is high” and employees “feel good about the firm” overall. Still, he added that “people here are extremely angry about the fact that we had a partner involved” in the scheme, and acknowledged that there has been a negative reputational impact “that we have to, and we will, work through.”
Beyond investigations into the bank’s role in fraudulent financial activities, the fourth quarter of 2018 was a largely fruitful one for Goldman in terms of results. Net revenues of $8.1 billion in the period drove total 2018 revenues to $36.6 billion, which was up 12% from the previous year and represented the bank’s highest annual figure since 2010.
Goldman wasn’t entirely immune from the fourth quarter market volatility that hurt the bottom line of counterparts JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup. It reported a 5% drop in investment banking revenues versus the fourth quarter of 2017 that was driven by a 38% decline in its total debt and equity underwriting business.
Still, total 2018 investment banking revenues were up 7% year-on-year, to nearly $7.9 billion, and the bank’s shares surged on reported net earnings of more than $2.5 billion. Goldman’s stock was up more than 9% at the close of trading Wednesday, to more than $197 per share.