Simon English: The great muppet hunt could open up other problems

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The Independent Online

Are Lloyd Blankfein's private emails soon to become public property? News that Goldman Sachs is scouring its own staff's emails for evidence that they referred to clients as muppets mean that it can't be ruled out.

The chief executive of the respected investment bank/vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity (as you prefer) intends that by taking this action he can clean his company's image a little. The great muppet hunt will see Goldman bankers' and traders' privacy invaded more than a little.

Mr Blankfein wants to be able to report back that having read a hundred-thousand emails sent by staff he can confirm that the bank is of the highest integrity. Employees are as urbanely sophisticated as you'd expect. None of us ever called a client a muppet. Apart from Jim Henson, but then he did create the Muppets (his family used to take Goldman's investment advice). Even if this happy outcome occurs, what happens next may be a touch awkward.

Once Goldman has done its search and professed its innocence of all crimes, it's not much of a step for an ambitious US Attorney General to subpoena the bank to see the emails. Goldman emails have become public as a result of legal cases more than once lately. Emails released in 2010 revealed the bank bet against mortgage securities similar to those it had sold to clients. It might have been perfectly logical to do so, but it looked bad.

By attempting to look like it is taking seriously the claims of former employee Greg Smith (he made the original muppet claim in an article last week) it opens itself up to all sorts of other potential problems. If staff emails can be read and then perhaps made public, why can't Mr Blankfein's? All of them. The chief squid may come to regret delving into the email musings of staff and letting it be known that he is so doing. Not that he himself has anything to hide of course.

Was charmer McNeile sleeping on the job?

A few days ago, the charming and loquacious Lindsay McNeile was on the phone to assure me that rumours of anything untoward occurring at WorldSpreads were well off the pace.

The chief executive, Conor Foley, had moved on with immediate effect simply because he's an entrepreneurial guy with itchy feet. Otherwise, everything was tickety-boo.

Mr McNeile was stepping up from chairman to executive chairman with reluctance. It would be temporary.

He asked if I could help dispel one other rumour: that the word "executive" implied "full-time". He wasn't really expected to turn up every day, was he?

Mr McNeile is hugely likable (no one I've asked says otherwise). But in light of his firm's sudden collapse into administration, with rumours of fraud circling, his comments do take on a different identity.

Being relaxed and hands-off is an awfully appealing approach. The accusation against Mr McNeile is that he was also asleep at the switch.