Impact of Crime on Society

Last Saturday Mark Madoff, the eldest son of Bernard Madoff committed suicide. Mark after bearing the cross of his father’s sins for two years, gave up the burden by hanging himself in his Manhattan apartment. His wife and four children would feel the loss of his life the most. His children are innocent and it is sad to think they will be now fatherless.

Bernard Madoff while conducting the massive Ponzi scheme fraud would have never thought that he and his family would one day pay such a heavy price. As most humans do, he would have been lured by the easy money and confident that he would escape unscathed. He would have not foreseen this end. For his crimes, he has a 150 years prison sentence. One son committed suicide because of his crimes.  He was unable to attend his own son’s funeral. His grandchildren lost their father at such a young age. Now he might be contemplating whether it was worth it. Would it have been better if he had restrained his greed and lived a simpler life?

Human beings have a tendency of not learning any lessons from other person’s life experiences. The lure of glitz, glamour and money has destroyed many lives. However, people still pursue it heedlessly. Some rationalize their desire to commit crime for the sake of greed. The end becomes more important than the means. This attitude leads a person to live a dangerous and risky life. The end is generally tragic, as the person involved does not see reality early enough to restrain and correct actions.

With a case like Bernard Madoff, one would think that people would think twice about crime. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Here are three posts of this week. The first from Task Force Financial Integrity & Economic Development is a money-laundering incident in Vatican Bank in Italy. The investigators suspect clergy of acting as front for corrupt businessperson and Mafia.

The second post covers “10 Great Moment of Corporate Malfeasance”. I consider it 10 dishonorable moments. Read them it gives a different perspective of business altogether. The last is a video advertisement of a book on financial crime. Watch the video I am not telling you more, except that it is a revelation.  Click on the headings to read the full story.

1.       God’s Bank By Ann Hollingshead (via Task Force Financial Integrity & Economic Development)

On September 21st of this year, Italian financial police seized $30.18 million from a Vatican Bank account at a Rome branch for possible ties to money laundering.  About $26 million of these funds were headed to JP Morgan in Frankfurt and the remainder was going to Banca del Fucino. Later that day investigators announced that the Vatican Bank’s chairman and director general are under investigation for failure to meet Italy’s anti-money laundering laws.  On that day in September, I wrote a blog post about the Institute for Works of Religion, known commonly as Vatican Bank, and its already dirty list of scandals.  This includes the infamous death a man named Roberto Calvi, nicknamed “God’s Banker,” and his connection to the Bank.

On month after the seizure, Holocaust survivors from the former Yugoslavia requested that the European Commission investigate the Vatican Bank for potentially aiding Nazis launder their stolen valuables.  The request follows from a decade-old lawsuit in the U.S., which alleges that—according to a U.S. State Department report—the Vatican Bank “laundered assets stolen from thousands of Jews, gypsies and Serbs killed or captured by the Ustasha, the Nazi-backed regime of wartime Croatia.”  But in December of 2009 a U.S. appeals court in San Francisco dismissed the case because the Vatican Bank has immunity under the 1976 Foreign Service Immunities Act.

The corruption probe has given new hope to these survivors and their case.  The Vatican has called the probe a “misunderstanding.”

Evidence revealed by the prosecution indicates otherwise.  In fact, prosecutors say the Vatican Bank “deliberately flouted anti-laundering laws with the aim of hiding the ownership, destination and origin of the capital.” Their documents also show that some members of the clergy may have acted as fronts for corrupt businessmen and Mafia.  These documents highlight two unreported transactions: one in 2009 that used a false name, and another in 2010 in which the Vatican Bank withdrew $860 million from an Italian bank account, but refused to disclose where the money was destined.

2.     10 Great Moments in Corporate Malfeasance by Josh Clark (via howstuffworks)

Swiss pharmaceutical maker Roche made Multinational Monitor’s “10 Worst Corporations of 2008” list because of a statement made by one of its executives regarding the company’s HIV drug Fuzeon.

Roche made $266 million from worldwide sales of the drug and had created a firm sales price of $25,000 for a year’s supply

Typically, drugs — especially life-saving ones — are sold around the world on a sliding scale, with developing countries paying less than industrialized nations, which pay the highest prices. Roche bucked this trend with its global price for Fuzeon.

When South Korea’s Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Affairs valued a year’s supply of Fuzeon at $18,000 — essentially setting the limit Roche could charge for the drug within the country’s borders — Roche balked and refused to sell the drug there any longer. Because of the lack of alternative drugs, the company effectively withdrew treatment for South Korea’s HIV patients, despite the fact that the company still would’ve realized a profit from sales, even at the $18,000 price limit.

When the decision was challenged, the head of Roche’s Korea division reportedly said, “We are not in the business to save lives, but to make money. Saving lives is not our business”

3.  Money For Nothing

The video isn’t about Dire Straits song. The video advertises the book “Money for Nothing” authored by John Gillespie and David Zweig. The book discusses the financial crises and attributes it to systemic failure in corporate world. I have not read the book but I liked the metaphor used in this advertisement. Check it out.

Amazing isn’t it. The people whom we trust exploit us because of insatiable desire for money. So do you think sometime in future, the corporate leaders will show responsible behavior?

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3 comments on “Impact of Crime on Society

  1. Excellent video Sonia. Harvey-Jones of ICI always said that the only job of the non-exec was to fire the Chairman, and the only mistake was not to do it soon enough (because non-execs are soon compromised).

    And the video is right, the scale of the scandal is in $trillions not merely $billions.

    I am reminded of this paragraph about Winston Churchill in William Manchester’s “The Last Lion Alone”.

    “Despite his high birth he had an almost mystical faith in the power of the ordinary Englishman to survive, to endure, and, in the end, to prevail. ‘Tell the truth to the British people,’ he had begged the shifty prime ministers of the 1930s; ‘they are a tough people, a robust people… If you have told them exactly what is going on you have ensured yourself against complaints and reproaches which are not very pleasant when they come home on the morrow of some disillusion.'”

    The same must be said to today’s politicians and business leaders.

    But I am sure most will only learn this the hard way.

    • Geoffrey,

      I agree with you, non-exec directors are definitely not doing thier jobs in most cases, even when they are a qualified lot. The quote of Winston Chirchill is appropriate. I think most people if they are told the truth, sooner or later, sometimes with a lot of resistance, accept it. That is why I think it is said that truth lives forever, lies have a short life.

      I think most of what is occuring in the business world today is because people are not morally educated, business ethics are not considered important enough. Which is sad not only for the common man but for the business leaders also. This may sound cliched but money does not and cannot buy long term internal happiness and satisfaction. It can be used as a sop for interim relief by expensive stuff, parties etc. But internal happiness is a different ball game. If we shift focus from external to internal, I think most of the ills of the world will be cured. Problem is that business will not be willing to do that kind of advertising since sales will drop.

      The cynical believe it is not possible, the world is a tough place to live, hence it is better to be bad than good to protect oneself. Take the first mover advantage for offense, rather than play a game of defense. My father had a “cheif’ in his designation, saw the negatives of power and money at very close quarters in my teens.

      The idealists accept that there are very many things wrong with the world, but there is still hope. Maybe with time and effort it can be improved upon. I think we need more idealists in the world. Otherwise more and more people will be miserable and unhappy.

      Sonia

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