Greek debt crisis: Goldman Sachs could be sued for helping hide debts when it joined euro

Exclusive: A leading adviser to debt-riven countries has offered to help Athens recover some of the vast profits made by the investment bank

Jim Armitage,Ben Chu
Saturday 11 July 2015 12:57 BST
Goldman Sachs' current headquarters
Goldman Sachs' current headquarters

Goldman Sachs faces the prospect of potential legal action from Greece over the complex financial deals in 2001 that many blame for its subsequent debt crisis.

A leading adviser to debt-riven countries has offered to help Athens recover some of the vast profits made by the investment bank.

The Independent has learnt that a former Goldman banker, who has advised indebted governments on recovering losses made from complex transactions with banks, has written to the Greek government to advise that it has a chance of clawing back some of the hundreds of millions of dollars it paid Goldman to secure its position in the single currency.

The development came as Greece edged towards a last-minute deal with its creditors which will keep it from crashing out of the single currency.

The deal is based on fresh economic reform proposals submitted by Athens which bear a striking similarity to the creditors’ offer rejected by the Greek people in a referendum last Sunday – sparking claims that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has effectively executed a huge U-turn in order to avoid a catastrophic “Grexit”.

Greece managed to keep within the strict Maastricht rules for eurozone membership largely because of complex financial deals created by the investment bank which critics say disguised the extent of the country’s outstanding debts.

Goldman Sachs Manhattan headquarters

Goldman Sachs is said to have made as much as $500m from the transactions known as “swaps”. It denies that figure but declines to say what the correct one is.

The banker who stitched it together, Oxford-educated Antigone Loudiadis, was reportedly paid up to $12m in the year of the deal. Now Jaber George Jabbour, who formerly designed swaps at Goldman, has told the Greek government in a formal letter that it could “right historical wrongs as part of [its] plan to reduce Greece’s debt”.

Mr Jabbour successfully assisted Portugal in renegotiating complex trades naively done with London banks during the financial crisis. His work helped trigger a parliamentary inquiry and cost many senior officials and politicians their jobs. It also triggered major compensation payments by banks to the Portuguese taxpayer.

Pensioners stand outside a closed branch of the Greek National bank in Thessaloniki on June 29

Mr Jabbour, who now runs Ethos Capital Advisors, has also helped expose other cases including allegations against Goldman Sachs and Société Générale over their dealings with Libya relating to financial transactions that left the country’s taxpayers billions of dollars out of pocket. Both banks deny wrongdoing.

Based on publicly available information, he believes the size of the profit Goldman made on the transactions was unreasonable. Scrutiny and analysis of the documents and email exchanges could give Greece grounds to seek compensation and assess if the deals were executed for the sole purpose of concealing the country’s debts.

Antigone (Addy) Loudiadis

Greece’s membership of the euro gave it access to billions of easy credit which it was then incapable of paying back, leading to its current crisis. Lenders took its euro membership as a stamp of creditworthiness, but the true state of its economy was far less healthy.

Under Ms Loudiadis’s guidance, Goldman swapped debt issued by Greece in dollars and yen for euros which were priced at a historical exchange rate that made the debt look smaller than it actually was. The swaps reportedly made about 2 per cent of Greece’s debt disappear from its national accounts.

The size and structure of the deal enabled the bank to charge a far bigger fee than is usual in swap transactions, and Goldman persuaded Greece not to test the transaction with competitors to ensure it was getting good value for money.

Such deals were not uncommon among smaller countries attempting to enter the eurozone club, but they were stopped by the EU economic statistics agency Eurostat in 2008. Eurostat has said Greece did not report the Goldman Sachs transactions in 2008, when it and other countries were told to restate their accounts.

Two of the men in charge of the debt management agency of Greece at the time have argued the department did not understand what it was buying and lacked the expertise to judge the risks or costs.

One, Christoforos Sardelis, told Bloomberg news agency that Ms Loudiadis offered one swap which had what is known as a “teaser rate”, or three-year grace period. But the Greek official realised three months after signing the deal that it was far more complicated than he first thought – a situation exacerbated by the 9/11 attacks’ downward impact on global interest rates. While Goldman reworked the deal, Greece continued to lose heavily.

Saul Haydon Rowe, a partner at Turing Experts, a team of former bankers who advise in court cases involving bank derivatives, said: “Greece would have to unpick the trades completely and look into what advice was given, and how much Goldman might have expected to make over the course of the transaction.

“For a legal action to go ahead, Greece would have to show that Goldman Sachs said something it knew was untrue or which it did not care was true or not.”

Goldman said its transactions were in accordance with Eurostat rules. It said they reduced Greece’s foreign denominated debts by €2.37bn, or 1.6 per cent in terms of debt-to-GDP ratio, adding that they had “minimal effect on the country’s overall fiscal situation.”

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