19 Aug 2019
Andrea Vella was Goldman Sachs’s top dealmaker in Hong Kong. He had a nose for splashy trades, a fondness for the Bentley Continental, and a vague enough resemblance to George Clooney that there was even a joke among some bankers: “What would George do?”
That was almost a year ago. Then U.S. prosecutors dragged him into one of the biggest Wall Street scandals in a generation. Without charging him, they filed court documents tying Vella to the conspiracy that looted billions of dollars from the Malaysian investment fund known as 1MDB. The bank promptly put him on leave.
Now as the U.S. weighs how to handle Goldman Sachs, Vella is the mystery man to watch. If someone so powerful is found to have helped fuel the fiasco, it will be much harder for the bank to contain it by pinning blame on a rogue partner, Tim Leissner.
During confidential talks, the bank has been at odds with prosecutors over their description of Vella’s role in key moments of the 1MDB deals, according to people familiar with the discussions. Authorities have said that he dealt with the scandal’s alleged mastermind, Jho Low, and was aware of plans to bribe officials — a narrative Goldman has been disputing.
There’s another reason Vella’s involvement strikes a nerve. He helped structure 1MDB’s fundraising, and after money went missing played a central role in Goldman’s initial review of what went wrong, one of the people said. When U.S. prosecutors in Brooklyn described his involvement in court filings last year, without naming him, it alarmed some members of Goldman’s board, who worried the claims might further taint the firm’s senior leadership, two people said.
In the months since, Vella has been lying low in Asia, training for a triathlon while collecting checks from the firm that doesn’t want him at the office. The charismatic banker has skirted scandals before, bouncing back at least twice after major deals in Greece and Libya went south.
This account of how Vella ended up in limbo is drawn from interviews with more than a dozen colleagues, friends and people involved in examining Goldman’s alleged role in the 1MDB scandal. Representatives for Vella and for the Brooklyn prosecutors declined to comment. “Goldman Sachs refused to confirm any of these details, but we are continuing to cooperate with the proper authorities,” bank spokeswoman Maeve DuVally said.
By Sridhar Natarajan and Max Abelson, Bloomberg, 15 August 2019
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