Singapore sanctions ex-Goldman banker Leissner

The logo of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) at its building in Singapore February 21, 2013.  — File pic
The logo of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) at its building in Singapore February 21, 2013. — File pic

SINGAPORE, Dec 2 — Singapore plans to bar former Goldman Sachs Group Inc banker Tim Leissner from its securities industry for 10 years and fined Standard Chartered Plc and Coutts & Co over breaches related to a scandal-plagued Malaysian sovereign fund.

Leissner, who left Goldman Sachs in February, was sanctioned because he issued an unauthorised reference letter on behalf of Low Taek Jho, the Monetary Authority of Singapore said in a statement today. Low, a Malaysian financier, has been linked to alleged efforts to siphon billions of dollars from 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

The penalties are the latest the MAS has handed down to address the damage to Singapore’s reputation caused by anti-money laundering lapses linked to 1MDB. The regulator withdrew the banking licences of Falcon Private Bank and BSI SA’s local units earlier this year and fined UBS Group AG and DBS Group Holdings Ltd a combined total of S$2.3 million (RM7.18 million).

“These actions send a strong signal that we will not tolerate the abuse of Singapore’s financial system for illicit purposes,” MAS Managing Director Ravi Menon said in the statement.

“The supervisory investigations into the intricate web of international fund flows has been a learning experience for financial institutions as well as for MAS. Our financial sector will emerge cleaner and stronger.”

Leissner’s letter

Besides serving notice of its intention to issue a so-called prohibition order against Leissner, the MAS fined Standard Chartered S$5.2 million and Coutts S$2.4 million.

The proposed order will prohibit Leissner from performing any activity regulated by the city’s securities laws or taking part in the management of any capital-market services firm in Singapore, the MAS said.

The letter Leissner issued on behalf of Low was on Goldman Sachs’s letterhead and stated that the firm had found no money-laundering concerns after conducting due diligence on Low and his family, the MAS said. The statements were untrue and were made by Leissner without his New York-based employer’s knowledge or consent, the regulator said.

“Today’s announcement refers to a matter we discovered in January of this year and identified as a clear violation of the firm’s standards,” Goldman Sachs said in an e-mailed statement. “At that time we promptly took steps to separate Mr Leissner from the firm and reported the matter to regulatory authorities in several jurisdictions, including Singapore. We continue to cooperate with the MAS.”

Leissner left Goldman Sachs in February after 18 years with the bank and relocated to Los Angeles earlier this year. The former star banker was instrumental in building Goldman Sachs’s business in Malaysia, and helped oversee bond offerings for 1MDB in 2012 and 2013 that earned the firm almost US$600 million.

Global probes

Low’s Hong Kong-based company Jynwel Capital didn’t respond immediately to an email request for comment on the Singapore central bank statement.

The regulator said it’s nearing completion of its examinations of financial institutions in Singapore through which 1MDB-related fund flows took place, and will provide a final update in early 2017. The city-state has charged four people, including three former BSI bankers, for their roles in transactions and money flows linked to 1MDB.

Allegations that billions of dollars have been improperly siphoned out of the Malaysian fund has led to investigations across the globe including by Swiss and US authorities. The US Department of Justice said in July that more than US$3.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB, as the agency sought to seize about US$1 billion of assets it claims was laundered through the US banking system.

Five wire transfers totalling US$636 million were sent between May and December 2012 from a bank account of a company registered in the British Virgin Islands to an account at Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore held in the name of Blackstone Asia Real Estate Partners, the DOJ alleged in a suit filed on July 20.

The Blackstone account, not related to Blackstone Group LP, was controlled by a man named by the DOJ as a “a close associate” of Low.

Standard Chartered said it reported the transactions “both before and at the time we exited the accounts in early 2013,” according to an email statement from the bank. “We have made significant investments in strengthening our controls, processes, and surveillance systems, and continue to do so.”

1MDB has consistently denied wrongdoing and Malaysia’s government has said it will cooperate with lawful investigations of local companies or its citizens in relation to the fund. — Bloomberg

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