Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Monday 15 December 2008

It's a mad, mad, mad, Madoff world

The emperor's new clothes continue to unravel as bank after bank admits exposure to Madoff's investment services. As more details emerge, we are presented with a scenario which could have come straight from the pages of an airport novel.

From the mysterious offices on floor 17 to the locked filing cabinets and encrypted files, Madoff presided over an empire that was opaque and inscrutable even to the employees of other divisions. Only his close relatives and a select few others were privy to the workings of the organisation and the auditing was handled by an obscure three-person firm in a remote suburb.

The complaint filed on December 11th makes no bones about it - it states that Madoff 'employed devices, schemes and artifices to defraud' and -rather picturesquely - seeks an order 'directing the defendants to disgorge their ill-gotten gains'. Alas, therein lies the rub; these ill-gotten gains have presumably been disbursed either in the high returns which so delighted Nicola Horlick or among the $200m Madoff announced he intended to pass to associates before giving himself up.

Since the whole reason this alleged fraud came to light is that the pyramid was on the verge of collapse, it is unlikely that investors will see much of their money again. Those who were in early enough to reap the artificially generated returns are better off than recent investors lured in by the unwitting shilling of their predecessors. The fairy-tale promises were false; yet again, the goose's golden eggs turn out to be addled.

If John Grisham doesn't want to write the script, I'm free!

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