About a year ago, this nation was so screwed up that 123,000 of its people had travelled 10-hour just to buy food from its neighbour Colombia. That was a new level of deterioration because a year earlier in 2015, the Venezuelans were just complaining they couldn’t afford to have sex due to inflation – a 36-pack of Trojan condoms cost US$755 (£492; RM2,677).
By July 2016, at least 52% of Venezuelans bought their food through black market and over 15% of the people ate garbage to survive. Two days ago, the cash-strapped Venezuela’s central bank devalued its weakest legal exchange rate nearly 64%. Each U.S. dollar was sold at a rate of 2,010 Bolivars, down from 728 Bolivars. A year earlier in Feb 2016, the Bolívar was devalued 72%.
Technically, Venezuela is not bankrupt because it possesses unbelievable amount of oil reserves but the low oil prices means it’s too expensive to process the black gold. Corruption and mismanagement over 20 years have left the oil-rich nation with close to 1-trillion US dollar of oil revenue being squandered. Today, Chavez is dead while Maduro is sleeping on the job.
Without food, naturally people got angry and took to the street. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans protest against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro’s government. They demanded food and election. Maduro gave them beating and blood instead. The government security forces staged a violent crackdown on protesters – over 60 were dead as a consequence.
But Maduro regime’s brutality wasn’t confined to shooting tear gas and beating protesters down alone. Protesters who thought the pro-Maduro para-military groups would not dare do a “Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989” were wrong. The heavily-armed and mask-wearing military groups happily mowed downVenezuela citizens with armoured trucks.
In every crisis, there is opportunity – goes a popular Chinese proverb. Goldman Sachs, an American multinational finance company has learned quickly the proverb. Where ordinary people see violent repression and blood on the street, liberal capitalist Goldman Sachs can only see money. The greedy banking giant decided to sponsor the brutal President Nicolas Maduro.
Goldman secretly bought US$2.8 billion worth of Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA’s (Petróleos de Venezuela) bonds maturing in 2022 from the Venezuelan central bank through a controversial broker called Dinosaur. In the fire sale, Goldman Sachs paid 31 cents on the dollar for the bonds – with a 6% return, significantly below the current market price of 43 cents on the dollar.
In essence, Goldman Sachs saw it as a fabulous investment with a 40% annual return in exchange for handing over US$865 million to a Venezuela dictator to purchase more weapons to terrorize and murder its own citizens in order to cling to power. But why can’t Goldman make a killing off the killing of the Venezuelan people? What’s wrong with the deal?
After all, other PDVSA bond holders included capitalists and liberals such as BlackRock, T. Rowe Price, Fidelity, JPMorgan Chase and Ashmore. True, but none of those firms carry Goldman’s reputation for being politically influential and financially opportunistic. This is the same guy involved in the scandal-hit Malaysian state investment fund 1MDB.
Working hand in glove with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Goldman Sachs earned close to US$600 million to arrange and underwrite US$6.5 billion in three bond sales in 2012 and 2013 for 1MDB under the pretext of investing in energy projects and real estate. Instead, more than US$2.5 billion raised from those bonds was misappropriated and siphoned from 1MDB.
Goldman’s former Southeast Asia chairman Tim Leissner, resigned in February 2016 after violated the firm’s internal rules – issued an unauthorized reference letter – and is being slapped with a 10-year industry ban by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). Prime Minister Najib himself was found to have nearly US$700 million in his private banking accounts.
On July 20, 2016, then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced that the Justice Department filed lawsuits to seize assets that it said were the result of US$3.5 billion that was misappropriated from 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Bhd), a fund set up by Najib Razak himself in 2009. Goldman Sachs was issued subpoenas in connection with the money laundering scandal.
The 147-year-old bank might have breached the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act, if it can be established that the banker was working hand in glove with 1MDB in sending half of the money raised to offshore accounts, with some later ending up in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s private bank account. Goldman didn’t sound an alarm about the suspicious transaction.
But helping Dictator President Nicolas Maduro to kill more Venezuelans and assisting corrupt Prime Minister Najib Razak to fleece taxpayers’ money aren’t the only skills Goldman Sachs possesses. Goldman was sued by the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) last year for scamming the country’s sovereign-wealth fund of US$1.2 billion, which also saw prostitutes being offered as bribes.
Perhaps it’s true that liberal American institutions such as Goldman Sachs are the greatest hypocrites. They scream democracy, human rights, freedom of press and even climate change but in reality; they gleefully fund and support dictatorship, repression, corruption, violence and even murder. For the sake of money, Goldman greedily gobbled Venezuelan “blood bonds”.
Like 1MDB scandal, the Venezuela PDVSA bonds do not belong to the people of the country but to a selected group of cronies or proxies of the Maduro regime. But the regime is proud because it can now brag that even an institution as esteemed as Goldman Sachs snapped up their bonds, giving them credibility. With new funding from Goldman, the regime can continue terrorizing its own people.
With at least three former Goldman Sachs executives in the White House – Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn, and President’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon – don’t be surprise if the super corrupt Malaysian PM Najib Razak’s 1MDB money laundering scandal is thrown out of U.S.-DOJ’s investigation desk.