How the shadiest player in the saga might be the alleged victim.
The shadiest player in the Goldman Sachs drama may be neither Goldman nor John Paulson, but the German bank that the SEC maintains was duped in the scheme. John Carney details how the bank itself engaged in a pattern of dirty trading tactics that caused billions in losses.
In Michael Lewis’ bestseller The Big Short, when Greg Lippman, one of the top traders dealing with the kind of derivatives that helped implode the world’s economy, was asked who was selling insurance on all the lousy subprime loans, he answered concisely: Dusseldorf. “Stupid Germans,” Lippman purportedly told wary hedge-fund investors, despite the fact that he worked at a Deutsche Bank. “They take the ratings agencies seriously. They believe in the rules.”
But the Germans selling the credit default swaps to Goldman Sachs—the very swaps at the heart of the SEC’s case against Goldman Sachs—weren’t stupid. In fact, they were wily and wealthy financial players. Nor did they necessarily play by the rules: Their dealings with Goldman seemed designed to evade regulatory and auditor supervision—something the SEC conveniently shoved down the memory hole in order to paint the Germans as just another victim of Goldman fraud.
In short order, Rhineland became one of the biggest buyers of the complex investment products puked out by the likes of Lippman at Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase—and Goldman.
Rather than suckers, a thorough study of the case indicates that Dusseldorf-based IKB Deutsche Industriebank—which seems to eerily resemble the “stupid Germans” Lippman was referring to when seeking buyers for his eventually toxic collateralized debt obligations—was playing the same game that Goldman was.
In a nutshell, the SEC is alleging that hedge-fund titan John Paulson approached Goldman with a list of mortgage-backed securities he wanted to bet against and, since it's generally not possible to bet directly against a mortgage-backed security, Goldman agreed to provide credit protection, before pawning off the mirror image of Paulson’s basket, named Abacus, to unsuspecting customers, while pocketing a profit on both sides of the transaction.
• A Primer on the Goldman Sachs Scandal
• Charlie Gasparino: Why Goldman Will Settle Enter Dusseldorf’s IKB. Beginning in 2001, CEO Stefan Ortseifen pursued a strategy to turn his modest operation that specialized in lending to small and midsize companies into an aggressive global player dealing in risky assets while, as detailed by financial reporter Nick Dunbar, getting around the prying eyes of his largest shareholder, a conservative, government-owned development bank. Specifically, he set up off-balance-sheet, offshore company called Rhineland Funding, The Wall Street Journal reported, that would buy risky securities, while escaping direct regulatory or auditor scrutiny. Since IKB controlled Rhineland, which was listed on the Irish stock exchange, and lent it money, it could siphon profits out via hefty management fees. Meanwhile, IKB remained at arm’s length, reducing its exposure by pawning off a portion of its dicey Rhineland loans to others.