The facts in the report speak for themselves, but the principles it describes could apply to funds throughout the United States and overseas. That’s attorney Philip Khinda, talking about the 75-page report he delivered last week to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System on dealings involving former senior executives and board members with so-called placement agents, and how the latter got tens of millions of dollars in questionable fees for their services.
The report is the culmination of a 17-month investigation headed by Khinda, a partner at the Washington law firm Steptoe & Johnson, which was hired by CalPERS for the job. Citing the $800 million a year CalPERS was paying out in fees, the report concludes that “the excessive nature created an environment in which external managers were willing and able to pay fees at a level that bore little or no relationship to the services apparently provided by the placement agents … Many of the abuses relating to placement agent arrangements were, in a sense, a symptom of a larger problem.” That larger problem applies, in part, to funds throughout the United States and overseas, ranging from other public pension funds to sovereign wealth funds investing in the United States. With the amount of money at stake, the fat fees involved, and the various middlemen looking for a piece, events similar to what transpired at CalPERS could just as easily appear elsewhere.