Goldman Sachs’ massive 1MDB scandal has claimed its biggest scalp yet.
The Federal Reserve imposed a lifetime ban from the banking industry on Goldman partner Andrea Vella Tuesday for ignoring the multiple red flags as the bank arranged $6.5 billion in loans for 1MDB, a Malaysian development fund that was later looted by now-fugitive partyer Jho Low and others.
Goldman has already watched two other executives face punishment for their roles in the Malaysian misadventure. Senior banker Tim Leissner, who is married to Kimora Lee Simons, pleaded guilty in the case and has been barred from working in the industry by the Securities and Exchange Commission. A second Goldman banker, Roger Ng, is awaiting trial in Malaysia and reportedly still working on a plea deal with the US Justice Department.
But a lifetime ban for Vella strikes very close to the center of Goldman’s executive structure. Vella was the megabank’s key player in Hong Kong and a major dealmaker in Goldman’s Asian operations. Wall Street insiders have been musing for months that a major punishment for Vella — who was placed on leave from the bank in 2018 — would spell major trouble for Goldman, which has thus far blamed the 1MDB fiasco on rogue employees.
“Andrea Vella is major guy,” said one former Goldman banker. “[CEO David] Solomon and [COO John] Waldron are not going to like this at all.”
Vella, an Italian national, has been a partner at Goldman since 2007, when he joined after doing big European deals for JPMorgan. Widely known as a brash networker, Vella was credited with much of Goldman’s success in Asia over for more than a decade.
The feds move to ban Vella comes at an inopportune time for Solomon and his team as they await the the Malaysian government’s decision to fine Goldman a reported $7.5 billion. Goldman’s earnings at the end of 2019 were severely affected by previous legal costs associated with 1MDB and the bank’s leadership is desperate to make sure 2020 does not start off with more of the same.