How did Bernhard Madoff get away with it for so long? Well, part of the reason was that his “Ponzi scheme”, which was using cash from new investors to pay existing investors, managed to produce consistent returns over a ten year period and with 10% to 12% annual returns the attraction was there. Everyone trusted Bernhard, he was a respected Wall Street figure and the regulators, who were already looking into his business dealings in 1999 just sort of missed him. Then along came the credit crunch, the new investors dried up, his clients were still looking for their returns and the money, well the money was just not there to recycle. The HSBC has lost about $1 billion the RBS about $590 million, a French hedgefund manager, Thierry de la Villehuchet, 65, co-founder of Access International Advisers, was found dead in his Manhattan office today after apparently commiting suicide. It would appear that he lost some of Liliane Bettencourt’s, the world’s wealthiest woman and heiress to the L’Oreal empire, money. Madoff’s scam didn’t discriminate but, while it is difficult to feel any sympathy for the HSBC, the RBS and Liliane Bettoncourt, there were a lot of smaller investors who have seen their life savings wiped out and in the Jewish community in particular there is real hurt. In that community there were many who trusted Madoff with all of their assets, seeing him, maybe, as one of their own, someone they could trust, someone who would take care of them.(1) Nevertheless, while their sense of betrayal might be particularly accute, perhaps, they might find comfort in the fact that even the Saudis have lost money through Madoff and, maybe, just maybe, if they ask him why he betrayed the tribe? They might get the answer, “business is business”.
Another businessman in the news is Lev Leviev whose companies Africa Israel and Leader are building illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and also cultivating a close partnership with President Dos Santos’s corrupt government in Angola. ‘Globes’ an Israeli financial journal, commented on Leviev’s abuse of human rights in Angola and Namibia earlier this month and in New York Leviev’s name has become synonomous with the forced removal of lower income families to make way for his building projects.(2) Leviev, however, is a tribal leader, a benefactor of Jewish causes, subsidising some 10,000 Jewish functionaries in the ex-Soviet Union.(3) Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and former Israeli deputy prime minister, “When it comes to contributing to the Jewish people, Lev Leviev is in a class by himself, I know a lot of rich people who give money. But Leviev is on a completely different level. He’s building entire communities.”(4) Yes, illegal communities; moreover he is also committing human rights abuses in Africa and bullying low income families in New York and why is he doing it? Well, business is business especially for a man who Israel can trust and who looks after his own.