Petros Christodoulou affects not to care about compliments or their source. Ever since he was a teenager, this top-of-the-class student has grown used to hearing his praises sung. Appointed on 19 February to the head of the organization for the management of Greek public debt, he has arrived at the top of the tree. However, the trouble is that the former manager of global markets at the National Bank of Greece (NBG) is at the centre of an inquiry, announced on 25 February by the United States Federal Reserve, on contracts relating to Greek national debt, which link Goldman Sachs and other companies to the government in Athens.
The New York based investment bank was paid as a banking advisor to the Greek government while speculating on the Hellenic nation's sovereign debt. In particular, the American regulator is interested in the role played by Petros Christodoulou, who, in collaboration with Goldman, supervised the creation of the London company Titlos to transfer debt from Greece's national accounts to the NBG. Before joining the NBG in 1998, Mr Christodoulou had worked as a banker for — you guessed it — Goldman Sachs.
The affair has highlighted the powerful network of influence that Goldman Sachs has maintained in Europe since 1985 — a tightly woven group of underground and high-profile go-betweens and loyal supporters, whose address books open the doors of ministries of finance. These carefully recruited and extraordinarily well-paid advisors understand all the subtleties of the corridors of power within the European Union, and have a direct line to decision makers that they can call during moments of crisis.
But who are the members of the European arm of the institution which is so powerful in Washington that it is referred to as "government Sachs"? The key figure is Peter Sutherland, chairman of Goldman Sachs International, the bank's London-based European subsidiary. The former European commissioner for competition and ex-chairman of BP, is an essential link between the investment bank and the 27 EU member states and Russia. In France, Goldman Sachs benefits from the support of Charles de Croisset, a former chairman of Crédit Commercial de France (CCF), who took over from Jacques Mayoux, a government inspector of finances and former chairman of Société Générale. In the United Kingdom, it can count on Lord Griffiths, who advised former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and in Germany, on Otmar Issing, a one-time board member of the Bundesbank and ex-chief economist of the European Central Bank (ECB).
Discreetly advances its interests
And that is not to mention the many Goldman alumni who go onto hold positions of power, which the bank can count on to advance its position. The best known of these is Mario Draghi, Goldman's vice-president for Europe between 2001 and 2006, who is the current governor of the Bank of Italy and Chairman of international regulator, the Financial Stability Board. But do not expect to come across former diplomats in the austere corridors of Goldman Sachs International. As an institution with real world interests, the bank prefers to recruit financiers, economists, central bankers, and former highly placed civil servants from international economic organizations, but considers retired ambassadors to be jovial status symbols without any real high-level contacts or business sense.
For Goldman Sachs, this network has the advantage of enabling it to discreetly advance its interests. In the Financial Times of 15 February, Otmar Issing published an article voicing his hostility to any attempt by the European Union to rescue Greece. However, he omitted to mention the fact that he has been an international advisor to Goldman Sachs since 2006. Nor did he say that the bank's traders, who have been speculating against the single European currency, might well lose their shirts if the EU does intervene.