The Daily Mail – Dec 2009
As we approach the end of the decade journalists across the world are once again busy writing lists of those significant people, events or innovations that defined the previous ten years. It therefore seems appropriate for me, someone who is considered a City scoundrel by many, to write a top ten list of the financial rogues of the ‘Noughties’ – especially as this last decade has produced more well-known rascals than any other in living memory. Perhaps this reflects a decline in morality and an increase in greed or maybe it resulted from the booms and busts that characterised the last decade. Below is my personal list of those colourful characters whose very public comeuppance reminded us that even the rich and powerful don’t always get away with it!
10) Dennis Kowalski – currently serving 8 to 24 years in a New York prison mainly as a result of receiving $81m in purportedly unauthorized bonuses whilst he was CEO of US conglomerate Tyco. He admitted at his trial that his $100m annual pay package was ‘almost embarrassingly big.’ This fat, bald fraudster became a poster boy for early noughties excess after it emerged that he’d spent $6000 on a shower curtain!
9) Elliot Spitzer – this former New York state attorney became the scourge of bankers as a result of his attempts to clean up Wall Street in the early noughties. However, his Mr Clean image was tarnished irreparably in 2008 after he was exposed as a regular customer of a prostitute ring. Gets a place for sheer hypocrisy.
8) Adam Applegarth – Mr Applegarth’s reckless risk-taking resulted in the first run on a British bank (Northern Rock) for over a century and played a significant role in worsening Britain’s credit crunch. He’s more of a dullard than a crook but any sympathy may be offset by the over £1m payoff he received after his fall.
7) Conrad Black – Baron Black of Crosshabour was once the third biggest newspaper magnate in the world. He was convicted of diverting funds for personal benefit from his company Hollinger International and is now serving a 6½ year sentence. He and his wife Amiel’s extraordinary notorious extravagance were neatly summed up by an infamous picture of them dressed as Cardinal Richelieu and Marie Antoinette.
6) Bernie Ebbers – this bearded, born-again Christian ex-bouncer was a good old boy who built up a telecoms company worth $180bn. He turned many of the locals from his town of Brookhaven, Mississippi into millionaires but when the tech boom fizzled out he decided to cook the books and got his company into a right stew. Worldcom went bankrupt and Bernie’s doing 25 years.
5) Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin – Sir Frederick Goodwin is one of the least popular bankers around … and that’s really saying something! His extraordinary mismanagement of Royal Bank of Scotland was only rivalled by his willingness to sack employees and his seemingly boundless megalomania. After his bank was nationalized Goodwin cemented his bogeyman status by accepting a £700K annual pension.
4) Jerome Kerviel – This geeky 32 year old rogue trader almost destroyed one of France’s major banks, Societe Generale, after he allegedly lost €4.9bn in early 2008 (over six times our own Nick Leeson’s efforts of 1995.) Ironically, this ex-banker has become something of a hero to anti-capitalist French groups.
3) Jeffrey Skilling/Andy Fastow – these two crazy guys created the house of cards that was Enron. Through accounting trickery they pretended Enron made profits when in fact it was a heavily-indebted illusion that fell apart in 2001. They are serving 24 and 6 years respectively though their boss, Ken Lay, died before his sentencing.
2) Dick Fuld – this pit-bull of a man oversaw the destruction of Lehman Brothers and, in so doing, ensured that the world entered the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression. His unwillingness to listen to others, bombastic manner (he once publically declared he’d eat the still beating heart of hedge fund managers that dared short his stock!) and sheer bloody mindedness are legendary.
1) Bernie Madoff – A late entrant, but without doubt the king of the crop! The renowned investor Warren Buffet famously said ‘you only find out who’s swimming naked when the tide goes out’ and that is exactly what happened to Bernie as the financial crisis took hold. His Ponzi scheme may have cost investors $65bn and is now officially the biggest ever fraud. In June 2009 this former pillar of New York society was sentenced to 150 years in prison.