World News

02.03.14

How Goldman Sachs Rescued Libya

If a new lawsuit by the Libyan sovereign investment fund is to be believed, Wall Street bankers were able to accomplish what decades of sanctions could not—Gaddafi’s downfall.

“Geopolitics is now a game best played with financial and commercial weapons. The new geoeconomic game may be more efficient and subtle than past geopolitical competitions, but it is no less ruthless and destructive.”

- Juan C. Zarate

In October of 2011, Libya was finally freed from autocratic rule after 42 years of oppression under the dictator Muammar Gaddafi. There were many contributing causes to the fall of the Colonel, from the rebellious uprising of National Transitional Council (NTC) armed forces to the sanctions imposed by the West, including the freezing of bank accounts and the boycott of the nation’s oil exports.

But of all these factors in the liberation of the Libyan people, none are quite so unsung as those made by the American investment bank, Goldman Sachs.

Goldman, you see, may have actually been instrumental in the fall of the dictator, in an operation so devious and brutally effective that we can only assume it had been carried out at the behest of the Department of Defense or, at least, with their tacit approval. While no proof of this cooperation between the bank and the United States exists (officially), it is hard to witness the effectiveness with which the bankers neutralized their target and not conclude some sort of intentionality.

Thanks to a new lawsuit filed in London’s High Court this week, we are finally hearing of these deeds of financial derring-do.

If these new allegations are anywhere within the realm of truth, then we may just have a new model for dealing with enemy nations and stubbornly unreasonable governments overseas—we simply send in the bankers.

The Libyan sovereign investment fund is claiming that Goldman Sachs helped bring about $1 billion in losses for the nation between 2007 and 2011, whilst spiriting away $350 million in profits from the endeavor. From the point of view of Libya’s financial officials, the aggressor against the Mideast country bore no guns, nor missiles, nor bombs in the course of the assault. It sent very few troops, at least none who were identified as such, unless one were to conflate Canali suits with camouflage. Instead, Libya faced a 21st-century arsenal unlike anything it had been prepared for from its long, arduous history of bloodshed.

This time, you see, the enemy came armed with derivatives.

From The New York Times:

The suit, filed by the Libyan Investment Authority last week but detailed on Thursday, says that Goldman Sachs abused its relationship “of trust and confidence” in entering into the trades, adding that the bank did not keep adequate records about the trades. Throughout the suit, the sovereign fund describes an imbalance between its young and inexperienced staff and Goldman’s savvy bankers, an imbalance, the fund says, the firm abused.

"Trust and Confidence”—a lethal combination of subterfuge, especially when employed with the unctuous haughtiness of an Ivy-educated, world-wizened veteran of Wall Street culture. 

The Libyan Investment Authority (L.I.A.) goes on to detail the ways in which confidence was gained by Goldman personnel, an advisory relationship was established and mesmerizingly complex transactions were entered into. This process included the now well-known tactic of U.S. bankers hiring the family members of government officials to capture the opportunities that inevitably arise when unsophisticated bureaucrats are entering into 10- and 11-figure transactions with Harvard MBAs. It’s not bribery, after all, so long as somebody’s getting new business cards printed.

In 2003, the United Nations began lifting sanctions against Libya as a result of its anti-terror cooperation pledge in the wake of 9/11. We are told that both the UK and the United States encouraged their banking elites to embark upon business dealings with the formerly untouchable regime, an invitation that surely needed not be proffered twice. By the fall of 2007, we are told, Goldman had made a presentation to the Libyans about establishing a partnership with the sovereign fund, training its employees and “offering it strategic long-term advice and opportunistic investment options.” They had given the LIA the ol’ tried-and-true we’re your partners pitch and it had worked.

And that’s when the trading began.

You already know what happens next… The same thing that went down from Iceland to Ireland to Jefferson County, Alabama. “While Goldman Sachs was orchestrating these unjustly exploitative transactions,” says the chairman of Libya’s sovereign wealth fund, “it repeatedly told the L.I.A. that it sought a long-term relationship with the L.I.A. as a strategic partner. This was untrue.”

From another report at The Telegraph, we see that swiftness with which Goldman was able to subdue its Libyan “customer” and relieve it of its funds shows a formidability that our armed forces can only dream of…

The first trade, a $100m derivate bet on the share price of global bank Citigroup, was entered in to on January 25, with the others following over a three month period.

But by the end of 2008, the trades had “lost substantially all of their value,” and expired worthless during the course of 2011.

Godspeed, you magnificent bastards! What defense can there possibly be against the likes of such valor and unstoppable investment banking prowess?

If these new allegations are anywhere within the realm of truth, then we may just have a new model for dealing with enemy nations and stubbornly unreasonable governments overseas—we simply send in the bankers. While Goldman Sachs’s possibly intentional attempt to relieve the Libyan investment fund of its strategic wealth would certainly be a novel approach, it should be noted that American history is filled with examples of U.S. corporations aiding the war effort (and plenty of examples in which they’ve aided our enemies, but that’s another tale for another time).

Goldman’s particular brand of counterparty-combat, well documented in the press since the financial crisis, seems to have helped bring about what ages of negotiation and sanctions could not. While Goldman’s banker-warriors went about bleeding the country’s war-chest of wealth as hunters pursue a wounded elephant, the Libyan finance minister, Abdulhafid Zlitni, was telling the press that it would all be over soon. By April, Zlitni was restricting the amount of money that Libyans could withdraw from the state-run banks and was openly discussing a doubling in interest rates.

“This won’t take long—maybe a few months,” the country’s financial chief ominously said, without elaborating. I like to think he was mousing through the balances of his country’s investment account at Goldman as he uttered it. It would only be a few more months before his boss Muammar would be shot while attempting to escape through a drainage pipe.

Thus, the Libyan revolution ended, thanks in no small part to Goldman’s masterful manipulation of the men holding the national purse strings. The people were ultimately freed, their shackles broken after decades of isolation and submission.

It is highly probable that we’ll never hear a fully detailed account of Goldman’s courageous maneuvers in the business district of Tripoli, working from the inside to bring about the final days of Gaddafi’s reign. It is also unlikely that the firm will ever even take any credit, its stoicism on the matter yet even more proof of the firm’s innate nobility. 

Not all soldiers carry guns or pilot tanks and planes. Not every war is won on a physical field of battle. The integral role of Goldman’s bold, besuited bankers in the destabilization of this despotic regime ought to be told to future generations, in both story and song, so that their heroic actions aren’t soon forgotten.