Friday, December 21, 2012

CHASING MADOFF

It's just a sheer co-incidence that I sat and watched this documentary about the uncovering of the Bernie Madoff's audacious Ponzi fraud scheme the day before that Peter his son is sentenced to 10 years in jail for his part in the conspiracy. A reminder nevertheless that even though Mr Madoff Snr. is already behind bars and has started his 150 year prison sentence, this affair will not disappear from the public gaze for many more years to come.

You would have to have been living on a remote planet in 2008 if you haven't heard of the massive swindle that the Madoffs perpetrated on the public in several countries stealing billions of dollars over the years. The scheme named after Charles Ponzi, a Banker in the 1920's, is simply that they create the illusion that a Fund is earning higher returns than the norm when the reality is that they are doing the opposite, but are providing them with their own personal kitty to fund their extravagant lifestyles.  The prospect of high dividends attracts more investors monies and the new income is used to pay the interest to the existing clients.  To keep this all going they need a constantly source of new investors with more money, something that both Mr. Ponzi and Mr Madoff excelled at until their respective bubbles burst.


This version of the scandal focused on the four Brokers in Boston who back in 1999 studied a Madoff prospectus and report and spotted the fraud within minutes, and so immediately alerted the S.E.C. (Securites Exchange Commission) and several important financial journals, but all to no avail. These brave souls risked their reputations, their jobs and even their own lives by trying to make anyone in authority sit up and notice that this powerful man, once the Chairman of the NASDAQ Exchange, was probably the biggest crook in the history of Wall Street.  When the story actually broke some NINE years later, Harry Markopolos the main whistleblower was desperately worried for his own safety thinking that the SEC would take revenge on him for revealing their sheer incompetence, but once again, they did nothing.

The complete and utter failure of the SEC to investigate any of the detailed evidence that was presented to them over the years should have warranted criminal charges being brought against the organisation's management who were instead, simply allowed to resign their positions.  The documentary highlighted that here can be no question that the failure of the very Authority that exists for the sole purpose to regulate such financial matters on our behalf, brings into question the very need for such a grossly mismanaged Body in the first place.

Two other major points that I discovered during the film. Firstly, was the whole extent of Madoff's rather vast reach that seemed to extend into even deeper pockets all across Europe, including several Royal Families.  The second fact was the realisation that asides from the (once) wealthy clients Madoff milked dry, he also robbed the desperately needed funds of many Charities and Non-profit organisations.  This was unquestionably the most despicable of all his crimes, and the ones that really showed how evil the man was.

Filmmaker Jeff Prosserman's approach with the telling of the story is a little uneven at times, but the facts as he reveals them are compelling enough to make this a very watchable expose of this contemptuous crook, with the hope that his type will never be seen again.  But we know they will.