The New China Lobby

Financial blogger, Mish Shedlock, points out that Treasury Secretary Paulson’s plan actually extends to foreign investors. Yes, you read that right. Not to foreign banks headquartered in the US, but to foreign investors. Bad debt (sorry, troubled assets) can move from the foreign branch of a bank to its US branch. Bingo — what’s Mandarin for bingo? — you, the American taxpayer, are on the hook.

None of this should really be surprising. During his time at Goldman Sachs, Paulson made millions of dollars for his firm in China, with commensurate rewards for himself.

In 2006, Goldman Sachs bought into China’s largest bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, for $2.58, one of a number of such deals cut with Chinese state entities, as neoconservative hawks were quick to note. According to knowledgeable people, its profit of $3.9 billion was the biggest ever for the firm since its founding in 1869.

Goldman also bought a stake in Tokyo’s Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, the third largest financial group in Japan in 2003 ($1.26 billion), in return for which, Sumitomo Mitsui loaned billions to Goldman Sachs for its investment-grade clients. Both that and the ICBC deal were financed with Goldman’s own money and with investments by its partners, institutions and wealthy clients.

What’s more, Goldman earned more fees than any other of its global competitors in China, being the only foreign securities firm allowed to both trade stocks for brokerage clients and arrange share sales for companies. (Wonder why Paulson acts so high-handedly? Goldman is notorious for such conflicts.)

Knowing that Goldman is the source of a bunch of the credit default swaps now clogging up global finances, we can safely surmise that its Asian clients are now suffering the same toxic shock afflicting its American and European clients.

A Wall Street legend for paranoia and secrecy, The Firm didn’t let on for a while how badly it too had been hit. That front fell apart this fall when its stock price swooned, along with those of other financial firms. Recently, the New York Times reported exactly how much Goldman stood to lose from contracts with insurance giant, AIG. If AIG had gone under, Goldman would have lost $20 billion.

The Times also reported, apparently as revelation, that Lloyd Blankfein, current CEO of Goldman, attended weekend meetings with AIG, Paulson, and others before the AIG rescue was put through. (Amazing. Powerful corrupt financiers cut backroom deals with each other and twist arms in powerful corrupt DC. Who would have thought? Of course, in the alternative press we were aware of Goldman’s less than Boy Scout past much before the Times lost its innocence, but better late than never.)

Now we can guess why it was necessary to convert Goldman so quickly into a commercial bank. With access to customer deposits, the bank would be able to replenish its capital in short order.
Does Paulson profit personally? Reportedly, he sold his own shares in Goldman before being sworn in as Treasury Secretary in June 2006. Still, the meetings between Blankfein, AIG, Treasury, and the Federal Reserve sound like the worst kind of cronyism, given AIG’s subsequent rescue. And they’re not the only problem.

1) The amendment of reserve requirements (in Section 128, in both the original and amended versions of the Paulson plan) is another:

Section 203 of the Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act of 2006 (12 U.S.C. 461 note) is amended by striking ‘October 1, 2011’ and inserting ‘October 1, 2008.’

As Pam Martens points out, this amendment would allow banks to hold zero reserves for transactions, a very enticing prospect for an investment bank in such dire need of capital it had to reinvent itself as a deposit-taking retail bank. And this would go through before the election, before the political scene was altered drastically.

2) The bailout of the financial sector, especially Goldman Sachs, is now a matter of keen interest to a large number of wealthy and influential foreigners — both individuals and private and state-run banks. Paulson’s long-standing ties with these foreign entities, as well as with leading financial entities all over the world, in and of itself constitutes a powerful conflict-of-interest and opens up the question of foreign influence on one of the most powerful offices in our government. (For instance, since June 2006, more than 100 ICBC executives have attended courses at Goldman’s New York training center, where tutors include Gerald Corrigan, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who teaches a course on risk management (of all things). ICBC’s board includes Christopher Cole, Goldman’s chairman of investment banking. One of its directors is former Goldman President John Thornton.)

When the American state has interests it declares at odds with those of the Chinese state in a number of areas, for example in Africa (where Goldman has a 20% stake in Africa’s largest bank, Standard Bank); when servicemen and women are fighting and dying, ostensibly to protect those interests; when we are threatening other countries with bombing in defense of those interests; shouldn’t the appearance of foreign entities influencing the Treasury Secretary and Federal Reserve policy be treated seriously and transparently?

3) If Goldman went down, ICBC would be severely hit. And so would ICBC’s clients and other investors in ICBC. But it looks like Mr. Paulson would take a big loss too. According to press reports, Mr. Paulson netted a stake reported to be $25 million in the ICBC deal, a stake he and Goldman, as well as investors in Goldman’s private equity funds, are prohibited from selling for three years. A hit to Goldman would hit ICBC (and who knows what else). And a hit to ICBC would hit Paulson’s pocket.

Did Mr. Paulson sell this ICBC stake before he took office or didn’t he? It would be in the national interest to require him to make a public disclosure before this bill is passed.

And then he should resign.

Lila Rajiva is a freelance journalist and the author of The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the US Media (Monthly Review Press, 2005) and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets (with Bill Bonner-Wiley, September 2007). She has also contributed chapters to One of the Guys (Ed., Tara McKelvey and Barbara Ehrenreich, Seal Press, 2007), an anthology of writing on women as torturers, and to The Third World: Opposing Viewpoints (Ed., David Haugen, Greenhaven, 2006). Read other articles by Lila, or visit Lila's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. jimsecor said on October 5th, 2008 at 4:57am #

    First, be very careful of stating that one of ICBC’s directors in a foreigner, for it would never happen.
    Second, be aware that ICBC is the largest bank in China but that it is only at China Bank that one can exchange currencies. China Bank is the State Bank. The interplay?
    Using footnotes for personal comments that often do not support any contention you make is rather fruitless and misleading: I was expecting supporting evidence and I got nothing. However, the general gist of the article is worthwhile.
    In the end, it looks like my SSA retirement benefits will be worth zilcho for many years to come. Anyone for a cheap vacation to the USA?
    jimsecor

  2. Lila Rajiva said on October 5th, 2008 at 8:49am #

    Hi -

    Where are there personal comments in my footnotes? Those are all from reputable newspaper sources.

    As for ICBC, I did not say Paulson was a director. I said that reportedly, he, received a personal stake from the transaction. (That’s from the National Review piece by Frank Gaffney). See Gaffney’s wording. Maybe Gaffney misspoke and he meant the fees that Paulson collected from the transaction.

    If so, that is his error. But he doesn’t write that it was Paulson’s personal take or pay that was $25 million. The wording is his “personal stake” – so I ask- repeat – ask, that he should disclose what he received.

    If Goldman has other clients who were involved, and if – as it seems to be the case – there was a complicated and incestuous type of financing of the deal – Paulson might gain in many other ways.

    I think it’s an imperative question, considering his deal with AIG.
    Gaffney might have meant just fees. But look at the piece – he uses the same word “stake” which does not mean fees – it usually means equity.
    I think conflicts of interest still exist – regardless of the exact nature of the transaction – and that may be something that is concealed under supposedly arms length transactions.

    Lila

  3. Lila Rajiva said on October 5th, 2008 at 8:51am #

    And every footnotes supports the contention I make in the sentence in which the footnote is embedded. Perhaps you didn’t read through the articles in their entirety.

  4. Lila Rajiva said on October 5th, 2008 at 10:00am #

    Oh, I see what you mean. That’s seems to be an editing mistake. They’ve put three parenthetical remarks down below as footnotes. They are actually part of the text and have nothing to do with the numbers in the text, which are just to divide the argument into three parts. I’ve asked them to correct it.