Robbing Peter to pay Paul is nothing new but the scale of Bernard Madoff's alleged pyramid scheme is almost beyond comprehension. Even in less straitened times, it would be difficult for most of us to resist a frisson of schadenfreude at news of substantial losses for 'some of the most prominent and wealthy Americans'.
UK citizens have also been affected; city superwoman, earth mother and general Mother Theresa-alike Nicola Horlick - among those who invested heavily - endorsed Madoff in an interview in May, citing returns of 1% to 1.2% per month (see alphaville). In a display of handwashing worthy of Pontius Pilate, her company this week deplored the criminal activity and questioned a regulatory system which could allow the scheme to work unnoticed for years - did they never wonder how those returns were being consistently generated in the economic climate of the time? As a financial commentator wrote yesterday 'Even the savviest investors tend to look the other way when extraordinary returns are being made'.
The fact that Madoff's prominent firm used an obscure accountancy practice in Westchester and employed many of his nearest and, presumably, dearest in senior positions adds to the air of intrigue and speculation. Combine this with the high-society connections and country club lifestyle and you have a Hollywood blockbuster in the making - all we need now is John Grisham to write the screenplay.
The Book of St Richard, Chapter 25
6 minutes ago