The US Department of Justice is currently investigating several major financial institutions on allegations the companies shelled out hundreds of millions in bribes to Libyan officials to curry favorable deals prior to the overthrow of Muammar Ghaddaffi’s regime.
The allegations span several facets of the financial sector. Investment banks Goldman Sachs Group (GS) , JP Morgan Chase and Co. (JPM) and Credit Suisse (CS) have been implicated, as well as private equity firm Blackstone Group (BX) and hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management Group. The DOJ alleges the companies violated federal anti-corruption laws by shuffling more than $1 billion into private Libyan investment schemes.
The DOJ investigation is not the first US government inquiry into financial players alleged to have operated in concert with the Ghaddafi regime. Beginning in 2011, the Securities in Exchange began probing Goldman Sachs’ involvement in the Libyan Investment Authority, a fund established in 2006 to help the country manage its sizable oil-generated wealth.
That fund was rife with corruption, and saw its wealth vanish with the 2008 Great Recession, largely thanks to currency bets made at Goldman’s urging. In turn, Goldman offered to pay the LIA a $50 million “fee” in exchange for becoming the majority shareholder and a significant portion of future returns. The SEC contends that the $50 million fee constituted a bribe to indenture the LIA for guaranteed future returns.
Per the 1977 Foreign Corruption Practices Act, US companies are barred from bribing foreign officials. As they manage a nation's sovereign fund, LIA employees are considered by the US to be government officials.
As Ghaddafi’s regime has crumbled, much of the corruption concerning the dealings of Goldman and its ilk and the LIA has come to light. The LIA, while one of the world’s smallest sovereign wealth funds, is still attractive to global investors. The fund represents a turbulent yet oil-rich nation, holds $56 billion in assets, and has outperformed similar Arab sovereign wealth management funds.
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