Gary Cohn holds out against returning Goldman pay after 1MDB scandal

Former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn is holding out on the bank’s request for him to return millions of dollars of his pay in recognition of executives’ collective responsibility for the 1MDB corruption scandal.

Goldman pledged in October to claw back or withhold as much as $175m of pay and bonuses from the bank’s most senior management and three bankers directly involved in the scandal.

A person familiar with the situation said Mr Cohn — who left the bank in 2016 to become an adviser to US President Donald Trump — had not yet agreed to return his portion of the money.

Mr Cohn, who cashed out all his long-term Goldman bonuses when he was appointed to the Trump administration, could not immediately be reached for comment. News that he was holding out on the bank’s request was first reported by Bloomberg, which quoted him as saying he was having “very constructive conversations” with the lender on the topic.

Goldman declined to comment.

The Wall Street bank agreed a record $2.9bn global regulatory settlement in October to end years of investigations into its role in the 1MDB scandal. It helped raise billions of dollars which were pillaged from the Malaysian state development fund. Goldman’s subsidiary in the Asian country pleaded guilty to a bribery charge over the affair.

Some of the $175m being clawed back involves executives still at Goldman, including current chief executive David Solomon.

Another portion involves sums withheld from former executives, mostly as part of longer term incentive programmes. Those executives — including Mr Solomon’s predecessor, Lloyd Blankfein; the bank’s former head of Europe, Middle East and Africa, Michael Sherwood; and former vice-chairman Mike Evans — have agreed not to contest Goldman’s actions, the person familiar with the situation said.

Goldman’s former finance boss David Viniar, who now sits on the bank’s board, has also agreed to return money already paid out.

Goldman is withholding $24m and seeking to claw back another $51m from former partner Tim Leissner, who has pleaded guilty to US charges over the scheme, former banker Roger Ng, who is fighting US criminal charges, and former partner Andrea Vella, who has not faced criminal charges but was banned from working in the US securities industry.

“Our position is that Roger Ng has done nothing wrong and there is no basis for anyone to expect him to pay money back,” Mr Ng’s lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, of Brafman & Associates, told the Financial Times.

Mr Vella’s position could not immediately be learned. Mr Leissner’s lawyer did not respond to requests for information.

The $175m total also includes $31m to be cut from the 2020 pay packets of Mr Solomon, chief operating officer John Waldron, chief financial officer Stephen Scherr and Goldman Sachs International boss Richard Gnodde.

In October, Goldman’s board said that while none of its senior management were “involved in or aware of” the bank participating in any illicit activity related to 1MDB, “it is appropriate in light of the findings of the government and regulatory investigations and the magnitude of the total 1MDB settlement that compensation for certain past and current members of senior management be impacted”.

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