Heard of China's fake Rolexes? Now there's a fake Goldman Sachs

The Goldman Sachs logo is displayed on a post above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
The Goldman Sachs logo is displayed on a post above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - China has been accused of pirating movies, handbags, Rolexes - even cars. Add Goldman Sachs to the list.

Goldman Sachs (Shenzhen) Financial Leasing Co. has been operating in the city just across the border from Hong Kong using a nearly identical English and Chinese name as the New York-based financial institution, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. It claims on its website to be one of the city's largest financial leasing firms.

A receptionist answering the phone at the Shenzhen company who declined to give her name said it's not affiliated with the US bank and wouldn't offer how it got its name, emphasizing it includes Shenzhen. It's the first time she's been asked the question, she said.

A filing with the Shenzhen government indicates the company has been operating since May 2013. The company uses the same Chinese characters, gao sheng, as the real Goldman Sachs, and its English font is evocative of the US bank's.

Connie Ling, a Hong Kong-based spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs, confirmed there are no ties between the US investment bank and the Shenzhen company and said Goldman is looking into the matter.

It's not the only bank facing brazen name-borrowing. In a more extreme example, a 39-year-old man in eastern China's Shandong province was arrested earlier in August after setting up a fake branch of China Construction Bank, including card readers, teller counters and signs, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Shenzhen's Goldman Sachs came to light through a letter sent by a U.S. casino workers union to Chinese officials. The International Union of Operating Engineers said it sent a letter to Wang Qishan, head of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which is spearheading the biggest anti-corruption crackdown in decades.

The letter called on China's government to investigate Goldman Sachs (Shenzhen), which it said is a financial services company linked to a group of gambling companies controlled by the family of Cheung Chi-tai. Prosecutors in at least two other court cases alleged he has ties to Chinese organized crime gangs, known as triads. Cheung is awaiting trial and his next court appearance is scheduled for September.

Mr Cheung is a prominent figure in Macau junkets, which facilitate loans to Chinese high rollers in the only Chinese territory where gambling is legal. Casino revenue has fallen as China's anti-corruption drive has affected junkets.

"Macau's current gambling regulatory structure we believe is ill-equipped to monitor and adequately regulate a junket's outside partnerships and financing arrangements," Jeffrey Fiedler, the US union representative, said in the Aug. 25 letter.

The union has been trying to pressure Chinese and US regulators to investigate Macau, where American casinos such as Las Vegas Sands Corp. have big operations, for possible ties to organized crime and money laundering.

Three phone calls to the office of the CCDI in Beijing went unanswered. An operator with CCDI's hotline for public reporting said she's not familiar with the case.

The company's office is located in a relatively new gleaming high-rise office park along a tree-lined street on the western fringe of Shenzhen, a former fishing village turned global manufacturing powerhouse.

The union said the Shenzhen company is controlled by a Hong Kong-based gold trader unaffiliated with the investment bank. Its connection to Cheung is through relatives, the letter said. The Shenzhen Goldman Sachs's website was inaccessible as of Wednesday, though it could be viewed in screen grabs captured by the union.

"There have been quite a few cases where Chinese individuals or organizations have registered in China the trademark of an existing and established overseas brand," Paul Haswell, a Hong Kong-based partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, said in an e-mail.

If history is any guide, Goldman doesn't have much chance of changing its Shenzhen doppelganger. Basketball legend Michael Jordan lost a case against a Chinese sportswear company that used the Chinese version of his name.

Apple Inc. paid US$60 million to settle a trademark dispute with a Chinese company that had applied to block the sale of iPad computer tablets in 2012.

"It's notoriously difficult for an overseas claimant to persuade the Chinese courts that there has been trademark infringement," said Mr Haswell. "There's still a practice of whoever registers first wins."