Goldman Sachs bankers paid for prostitutes, private jets and five-star hotels and held business meetings on yachts to win business from a Libyan investment fund set up under Gaddafi regime, the high court in London was told yesterday.
The allegations came at the start of a legal claim by the Libyan Investment Authority for $1.2bn (£846m) from the investment bank. Lawyers for the LIA are claiming for losses on nine trades that Goldman Sachs executed for the fund between January and April 2008.
The LIA lost almost all its investment through the trades – one of which was the largest that the bank had undertaken in a single stock – while Goldman Sachs generated “eyewatering” profits of over more than $200m from the trades, Roger Masefield, a QC for LIA, said.
The LIA, Masefield told the court, felt betrayed as the trades generated excessive profits for Goldman and were unsuitable for the LIA, which was staffed by individuals who had not been appointed on merit.
Once the losses emerged, Masefield said one Libyan official described Goldman as the “bank of mafiosa”.
The LIA was set up in 2006 to invest the country’s oil wealth as its status from a pariah state was being lifted. Masefield said it was a nascent sovereign wealth fund with limited abilities to understand the so-called jumbo and elephant trades.
Goldman is disputing the claim, which was filed in 2014, and its lawyers will address the court on Tuesday. But in documents outlining its defence the bank said that the proceedings were not brought until after the trades had matured. “The LIA was the victim of an unforeseen financial depression, not of any wrongdoing by [Goldman],” the bank said.
In documents provided to the court, the LIA cited Goldman Sachs describing the sovereign wealth fund as having “zero-level” financial sophistication and one individual having “delivered a pitch on structured leveraged loans to someone who lives in the middle of the desert with his camels”.
Masefield told the court that one former Goldman executive – Youseff Kabbaj – had been told to “stay a lot in Tripoli. It is important you stay super close to clients on a daily basis. Teach them, train them, dine them.”
Goldman agreed an internship for Haitem Zarti, the brother of Mustafa Zarti, the LIA’s former deputy chief, which the LIA argues was intended to influence decisions by the investment fund.
According to the skeleton argument presented to the court by the LIA: “Mr Kabbaj took Haitem Zarti on holidays to Morocco on various occasions. Mr Kabbaj also took him to Dubai for a conference, with the business class flights and five-star accommodation being paid by Goldman Sachs. Documents disclosed by Goldman Sachs show that during that drip Mr Kabbaj went so far as to arrange for a pair of prostitutes to entertain them both one evening.”
The LIA said the internship “has been and may still be the subject of investigation” by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US.
Goldman Sachs said it did not believe the internship influenced the LIA’s decision to enter into the trades. “The claims are without merit and we will continue to defend them vigorously,” it said.
Kabbaj – who claimed £22,000 for one trip – was not being called to give evidence for Goldman, Masefield said, reading out a settlement agreement between the bank and Kabbaj, who had been promised a $9m bonus by Goldman, but received $4.5m. The aim, Masefield argued, was intended to stop Kabbaj’s concerns about the trades being aired.
Bloomberg quoted an email from Kabbaj in which he said: “Goldman Sachs or myself never paid for any LIA employee any improper entertainment…I am under a strong confidentiality agreement but I expect Goldman Sachs to correct the facts and protect my reputation”.
Masefield told the court that Driss Ben-Brahim – at the time a Goldman Sachs partner – in July 2007 met the LIA’s Zarti on Saif Gaddafi’s yacht in Cannes. Ben-Brahim wrote after the meeting that he was nervous about the relationship and wanted clearance from a more senior banker. Later, according to court documents, Goldman executives spent €25,800 – including contributions from their own pockets – to charter a private jet from the same company that Colonel Gaddafi used to travel to Tripoli.
Nine trades – on banking companies Citigroup, Santander and UniCredit, French electricity company EDF, utility ENI and German insurer Allianz – are the subject of the case.
The LIA argued that the case was one of of “abuse of trust, undue influence and unconscionable bargain”.
It added: “It most emphatically is not, therefore, as Goldman Sachs would have it, one of little more than ‘buyer’s remorse’; of a counterparty who like many others lost money as a result of the market crash in 2008 and now wants to rewind the clock.”
The case continues.