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A Fisherman’s Reflections on a beautiful but troubled world
Chapter 22 - Justice, Crime and Punishment

Let us, of both races in the south, throw off the shackles of racial
   and sectional prejudice, and rise above the clouds of ignorance,
        narrowness and selfishness.  ...  The Negro can afford to be wronged;
    the white man cannot afford to wrong him.  If a white man steals a
        Negro’s ballot, it is the white man who is permanently injured.  Physical
             death comes to the one Negro lynched in a county, but death of the morals,
              death of the soul, comes to the thousands responsible for the lynching. ...

                              There is no escape through law of man or God, from the inevitable:  
                                    The laws of changeless Justice, bind oppressor with oppressed;
                                    and close as sin and suffering joined, we march to fate abreast.
                               Let us pray God for a blotting out of sectional differences and racial
                             animosities; a determination to administer absolute Justice; and a willing
                             obedience to the mandates of law.  This, coupled with our material prosperity
                             will bring our beloved South, a new heaven and a new earth.

                                               Booker T. Washington, speeches, 1895 & 1896

We are confronted primarily with a moral issue.  It is as old as the Scriptures
and as clear as the American Constitution.  The heart of the question is whether
all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities.  ...  One
hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves,
yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free.  They are not yet freed from
the bonds of injustice.  They are not yet free from social and economic oppression. 
And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until
all its citizens are free.

We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom
here at home; but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each
other, that this is a land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-
class citizens except for the Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no
ghettoes, no master race, except with respect to Negroes ?   The time has come for
this nation to fulfill its promise.  Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well
as violence.  Those who act boldly are recognising right as well as reality.  But
legislation cannot solve this problem alone.  It must be solved in the homes of every
American in every community across our country.

President John F. Kennedy, Civil Rights Message, 11 June 1963

Since the end of World War II, war criminals and other human rights abusers have
lived in a golden age of impunity, and the international community has shown little courage or moral will to put a stop to crimes against humanity.

Tony Freemantle, Crying for Justice,
A Houston Chronicle Special Report

                        Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole
                        of humanity.  Those who clearly recognise the voice of their own conscience,
                        usually recognise also the voice of Justice.

                                                Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Struggle Intensifies, October 1967

Justice is justly represented blind, because she sees no difference in the parties
concerned.  She has but one scale and weight, for rich and poor, great and small.
Her sentence is not guided by the person, but the cause.   Impartiality is the
life of justice, as justice is that of government.

William Penn, 1644 – 1712, Quaker, founder of Pennsylvania

At best, man is the noblest of the animals;
separated from Law and Justice, he is the worst.

Aristotle,  384 – 322 BC,  Greek Philosopher

Justice delayed is Justice denied.

William Gladstone,  1809 – 1898, British Prime Minister

Statue of Justice

I have included a number of quotations on justice above, because, I am convinced that, as with the other great virtues and principles of civilisation, we are in danger of losing sight of its meaning and value.  As a child I often gazed at the statues and portraits of Justice depicted in Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia, with some awe and admiration.  Justice was usually represented as woman, a woman of great beauty, purity and strength of character.  The Quaker William Penn who suffered his own share of injustice in both England and America, stated, Justice is mostly pictured blind or blindfolded, to emphasize her complete impartiality.  But today our leaders cloud the concept of justice with ideas of national security, political expediency, and an array of legal loopholes – as if Justice was served by making the letter of the law rather than its spirit, the supreme factor. 

William Penn, Quaker, Pennsylvania founder.  “Justice is rightly represented blind.  She has but one scale … Her sentence is not guided by the person, but the cause.”

Demosthenes,  “the love of truth and justice within us, is the image of God”

The concept of justice is often linked closely with that of truth.  Demosthenes said that what we have in us of the image of God, is the love of truth and justice.  Truth sets us free, said Jesus, and where truth is suppressed, freedom dies.  No wonder the Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels said, “It is vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent; for Truth is the mortal enemy of the Lie, and thus by extension, the Truth is the greatest enemy of the State”.   It would seem in this the beginning of the 21st century, that several governments and their state-appointed authorities, are following Goebbels’ dictum, and pressuring the media to conform, especially in matters relating to war and justice.  And as some of the most outspoken opponents of what is really going on inside the corridors of power, and in the conflict areas of Chechnya, Burma, the Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan, have discovered, George Orwell’s statement remains true today : “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act”.

Albert Einstein, the great physicist and scientist, said, “I am firmly convinced that the passionate will for justice and truth has done more to improve the human condition than calculating political shrewdness which in the long run only breeds general mistrust”.   

Joseph Goebbels, the father of modern propaganda

George Orwell, author of 1984, and Animal Farm.             Albert Einstein,
“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth           “… the passionate will for justice and truth …”
becomes a revolutionary act.”

Genocide and Slaughter

However depressing and sobering it might be, I think it would be salutary to remind ourselves how many innocent persons have been murdered within the last hundred years, in civil wars, and purges, by military death squads, under despotic regimes, and from brutal inhumane ethnic cleansing. 

 The appalling figures underscore the priceless importance of justice, when platitudes or appeals to conscience evoke little response.   The incomplete list reveals over 42 million brutal deaths, not from international wars, but from internal strife, tribal battles, repression, proxy-invasions, and ethnic cleansing.  And the list does not include the tens of thousands murdered and tortured in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, or other south and central American states during periods of military rule or of foreign financed military death squads. (The figures in the table below are estimates from knowledgeable sources.)

Estimates of deaths caused by internal civil wars, genocide and ethnic cleansing

Country and cause






Russia            Bolshevik revolution

1917 - 1921

5m to         9,000,000

China              communist / nationalist conflict

1928 – 1949

1.3m to      6,100,000

Congo            central / eastern tribal wars 

1991 – 2004

 up to         4,600,000

Bangladesh    civil war (with W. Pakistan)


up to          3,000,000

Cambodia       Khmer Rouge / Pol Pot regime

1975 - 1979

1.7m to      2,300,000

Afghanistan    Russian and American invasions

1979 – 2006

1.6m to      2,200,000

Mexico            revolution

1910 - 1920

up to          2,000,000

Ethiopia          civil war

1974 - 1991

0.3m to      1.400,000

Indonesia       communist suppression

1965 - 1966

up to          1,250,000

Sudan            Darfur and civil war with south

1983 – 2006

up to          1,150,000

Nigeria           Biafra cessation / civil war

1967 – 1970

around       1,000.000

Mozambique  post independence civil war

1976 – 1993

0.9m to      1,000,000

Algeria            independence war with France

1954 - 1962

up to          1,000,000

Spain              Spanish civil war

1936 - 1939

0.35m to    1,000,000

Rwanda          Tutsi – Hutu genocide


estimated     930,000

Uganda            Idi Amin rule and civil war

1971 – 1986 

around         800,000

Chechnya       Russian suppression of secession

1994 – 2006

Over             600,000

Somalia          civil war and ethnic strife

1988 – 2006

estimated     550,000

Angola            civil war and S. African militias

1975 – 2002

around         500,000

Burundi           civil war and genocide


Over             300,000

Bosnia            civil war and ethnic cleansing

1992 - 1995

Over             280,000

East Timor      Indonesia army militias attacks

1975 - 1995

estimated     250,000

Liberia             civil war and warlords

1989 – 2001

Over             220,000

Sierra Leone   civil and tribal war

1991 – 2000

Over             200,000

Guatemala     right wing militias / death squads

1960 - 1996

Over             200,000

Lebanon       civil wars & Arab-Israeli conflicts

1975 - 2006

around         200,000

Yemen             civil wars

1962 - 1984

around         190,000

Sri Lanka         Sinhalese – Tamil civil war

1983 - 2006

up to            100,000

            Contra soldiers in Nicaragua                                             Conflict in Somalia

Soldiers fighting in East Timor

One of countless victims in Darfur                                                Sad evidence of Darfur atrocities

The brutality and utter inhumanity of most of these killings beggars beliefs.  I have been sickened to read and to hear firsthand, accounts of the depraved behaviour.  How could men made in the image of God descend to such depravity?  Khmer Rouge soldiers regularly tortured children, women, old men, priests, and civilians who were innocent of any crime and no threat to their murderous regime.  The torture and murder was conducted with delight and laughter.  Family members were forced to kill each other or face similar torture and death (which they usually did anyway).  Whether Pol Pot’s troops, or brutal militia thugs in Darfur, Sudan, West Africa, Central Africa, Latin America, Indonesia, Nazi Germany, the Ku Klux Klan, Apartheid South Africa, or in the jails and torture chambers of the KGB, communist China, North Korea, or even Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay, we can only ask what made otherwise normal young men become such demonized monsters to treat fellow human beings as they have. 

Dog torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib

              Lt William Caley of Mai Lai,                                 Graves of village people
              pardoned by President Nixon.                          massacred in Mai Lai, Vietnam

Their political and military masters thought they were untouchable.  “We can kill anybody for anything”, said a Punjabi Captain leading the slaughter of Bangladeshis in 1971, “We are accountable to no-one”.  A young ‘chlop’ or Khmer Rouge guard told his victims, “We gain nothing if we keep you.  You are worth nothing to us”. Such people have lost their humanity, killed their own souls.  An ordinary man in Cambodia, Soeum Himm, a former schoolteacher, when about to be murdered by the Khmer Rouge, told his family:  “If there is no love, justice can’t exist.  Don’t try to argue for justice with people who don’t understand the principle of love. They will never listen to you.” 

How many of those responsible for these millions of deaths, were brought to justice?  Not the rulers of Lenin’s and Stalin’s USSR, or the officials of Mao’s regime in China, not the Congolese or Ethiopian warlords, and few of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, or of the Indonesian military in East Timor.  Some of the world’s worst criminals were allowed to grow old and die of natural causes, - such as Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, and Idi Amin.   This is one of many reasons I believe that there has to be a final day of judgment before a supreme, impartial but all-knowing Judge.  Attempts to try the war criminals and despots of Rwanda, Burundi, Bosnia and Chile, have had very limited success. 

Joseph Stalin

                  Pap doc and Baby Doc, of Haiti                                Idi Amin of Uganda

Human justice systems appear to be incapable of handling cases of such enormous wickedness and cruelty. In Northern Ireland, the British government appears to be willing to let confessed murderers go free in order to achieve agreements on a political settlement.   Former President Jimmy Carter said that perpetrators of war crimes and human rights abuses should be punished; but often the ones who are accused, are so powerful, they won’t accept the tribunal or the new regime, unless they receive amnesty.  But even bastions of democracy protect war criminals in their own ranks.  Lt. William Caley the leader of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam was cosseted by the U.S. Army and pardoned once the media outcry had died down.  A former instigator and organizer of contra militias and death squads in Central America, Elliott Abrams, was an assistant secretary for Human Rights (!), and President of an Ethics and Public Policy Center. Abrams was convicted of lying to congress during the contra arms scandal. He occupyied high offices in the Bush administration.

Elliott Abrams.  Organiser of contra militias and death squads in Central America, who lied to Congress during the arms for Contra Investigations, yet was made an Assistant Secretary for Human Rights and President of an  Ethics and Public Policy Center, by the Bush Administration.

A  country that has led the world in exposing the truth and having perpetrators confess publicly to their crimes is South Africa where the indominatable Archbishop Desmond Tutu led the Peace and Reconciliation mission.  It was established in 1994, and  public hearings began in 1996.  Those who had committed atrocities had to apply to the Amnesty Committee of the truth commission to escape prosecution. If confessed to their crime, and could prove it was perpetrated to further the aims of a political organisation, and if it was not considered by the committee to be egregrious, amnesty was likely to be granted [Their use of the word ‘egregrious’ surprised me.  The majority of the apartheid crimes were reprehensible.  How the commission could find some extraordinarily so, is difficult to imagine.].  Some in South Africa felt that amnesty was a travesty, particularly families of murdered civil rights leaders and anti-apartheid protestors.  Steve Biko’s widow was one of these.  After what passed for an investigation into his death, the judge had concluded that no-one was responsible, though he had died from massive head injuries and was perfectly healthy when the police took him into custody.  Nomtsikelelo Biko said, “We all want reconciliation, but it must come with something.  It must come with justice, and if not, then there must be some form of compensation”. 

The Commission hearings, the telling of the truth, began slowly with victims coming forward, and their tormentors skulking behind walls of silence and lies, wrote Tony Freemantle.  The focus was first on the victims.  A sobered nation was riveted by harrowing tales of torture and murder at the hands of a racist minority government that had become increasingly brutal while its grip on power weakened.  It was a remarkable catharsis for a people who had cried in silence all those years, nursing the bitter cocktail of pain and injustice.  By the fall of 96, the trickle of truth became a flood, exposing the highest, darkest corners of the apartheid system to light of public scrutiny.  Desmond Tutu broke down in tears at one point.  The dreadful accounts of callous inhumanity and brutality were at times more than he could bear.  But then he realized that he could not chair the hearings competently if he allowed his own feelings to be expressed in that way.  So he composed himself, and thereafter wept only in private.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu who bravely chaired the Peace and Reconciliation Commission after the fall of the Apartheid regime

Steve Biko, murdered by South African security police.  His life was the subject of the film, Cry Freedom.

Tutu and his vice-chairman Alex Boraine, managed the commission with able, steady hands, eliciting praise and high marks from observers.  Tutu had made it clear that he would conduct an impartial enquiry into atrocities on both sides of the struggle, - those committed by both the apartheid government and by the ANC.  Despite pressure from ANC members of the new government, the Archbishop stuck to that position.   Ultimately, many South Africans came to recognize, the real culprits of the criminality, cruelty and violence, were the architects, supporters and followers of the whole apartheid system, - the institutionalized policy of racial separation which the United Nations branded as a crime against humanity. [Tony Freemantle, Light shines at last into apartheid’s darkest corners, Houston Chronicle, 1966]  The same, I suppose, could be said of those who established and supported the Nazi regime in Germany, the totalitarian communist systems of Russia and China; and those who designed or were complicit in the police states and right wing military regimes of Latin America, Myanmar, and the Philippines during the worst excesses of the Presidency of Ferdinand Marcos.  In Africa, tribal enmities were a driving force behind atrocities in Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, Liberia and the Congo.  Other despotic rules were more the product of demonic individuals who managed to seize power, - men like Papa Doc in Haiti, Idi Amin in Uganda and Pol Pot in Cambodia, not one of which ever faced a trial for their many hideous crimes against humanity. 

But now we will turn from a consideration of genocide and brutal injustices, to the need for justice on matters of civil crime, financial embezzlement, and corporate mendacity.

An entire system built on greed

I recall a comment by Prime Minister Edward Heath in the 1970’s when referring to the behaviour and performance of some banking establishment located in the Caribbean.  He stated that it was “the unacceptable face of capitalism”.  I am sure that most observers agreed with him, but the statement was challenged by his Conservative colleague Enoch Powell, who claimed it was a remarkable statement by one not given to remarkable statements.  Powell’s contention appeared to be that the bank in question was simply doing what banks do to make money.   The bank may have been particularly ruthless or its profits rather excessive, but what it did was not strictly illegal. 

Over thirty years later the attitudes of many right wing capitalists and economists to extortionate and opportunist financial greed and embezzlement, had not changed.  William Anderson of the Ludwig von Miseg Institute, claimed that Kenneth Lay, former Chairman and CEO of Enron, which he puffed to a false value, and led into a multi-billion dollar collapse, while enriching himself and his buddies, - had done nothing wrong.  The Houston jury however, thought differently, finding him guilty of 6 counts of fraud and conspiracy.   A British bank official who was recently charged with embezzlement of millions claimed that though technically guilty, he “never intended to profit personally from the actions”.   Has any senior finance executive ever been so altruistic?

The anecdotes illustrate a serious and fundamental problem with our capitalist system.  The whole system is built on greed and the promotion of greed.  We should not therefore be surprised when the Chief Executives of large corporations award themselves obscene salaries, benefits, pensions and golden handshakes.  Their whole profession is geared to maximizing large profits and generous returns for shareholders.  So they simply apply the same philosophy to their own remuneration. 

Of course, only a minority of big businessmen and corporate executives yield to the enormous financial temptations they face.  I admire every one who has maintained his integrity.  But my contention is that the system and its prevailing climate encourage avarice, exploitation, and opportunist robbery.   Power corrupts, - and that adage is as true for big business as it is for big government.  Banks today display little concern for customers and instead, grab every opportunity to charge clients for services that their predecessors considered part of the job.

From time to time we hear serious responsible persons who themselves are pillars of the financial system, call for restraint and appreciation of their wider public duty, on the part of those who operate and control our investment houses and corporations.  Mostly those pleas go unheeded.  So we have witnessed a succession of financial scandals involving embezzlement, asset-stripping, and insider trading deals that have robbed investors and pensioners of millions upon millions. Enron, and the Savings and Loan frauds, may have been the worst, but there were many others, like WorldCom, Parmalat, BCCI, Banco Ambrosio, Rite Aid, Vivendi Universal, Tyco Intl. Ltd., CMS Energy, Cendant, Adelphi Communications, Merck & Co., General Electric Corp., Waste Management, Viacom, Arthur Andersen, Duke Energy, and possible cases pending against the great Halliburton, and the Disney Corporation.  Punitive actions are minimal as the whole US establishment, political, economic and judicial, are tied into corporate America. 

What has astonished me is the total lack of remorse on the part of the guilty, and their pleas for clemency on the spurious grounds that they really never intended to do anything wrong, they were good family men, or that their crimes were victimless.  The few jail terms handed out were pitiful.  Typical was an S & L chief receiving a 3 and ½ year sentence for theft of $ 8.7 million.  What bank robber could hope for such leniency?  George Bush senior’s son Neil, another S & L manager, did not even have to go to jail.  He managed to negotiate an out of court settlement of a mere $ 50,000 for a scandal that cost American taxpayers $ 500 billion by some accounts.

I recall the sentencing of some Directors of the Guinness / Distillers’ Company in UK for their fraudulent and illicit actions in 1990.  One of the chief culprits was Ernest Saunders (originally Schleyer) who was found guilty of fraud conspiracy, false accounting and theft, in relation to a dishonest share support operation.  He had also passed $ 100 million to an American, Ivan Boesky, to invest, shortly before Boesky himself was prosecuted and imprisoned.  Saunders received a five year sentence which was reduced to two and a half years on appeal.  But his family promptly mounted a chorus of protests at the imprisonment of an ‘old man who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease’.  Astonishingly, the authorities responded by releasing him from jail after serving only 10 months in an open prison.   Saunders immediately made a remarkable recovery, and when questioned about it afterwards, shrugged it off as a ‘wrong diagnosis’, and the result of a cocktail of sleeping pills and tranquilisers.  I wondered then, what other criminal would have received such lenient treatment?   And why, after his remarkable recovery, was he not required to serve the remaining part of the sentence? 

Robert Maxwell, (original name Jan Ludvik Hoch), that mysterious man from Czechoslovakia, who came to Britain in 1940, served a period in the Army, and went on to become a publishing mogul and a Labour Member of Parliament, robbed 30,000 of his employees in the Mirror Group of hundreds of millions of pounds of their pension money.  He died mysteriously in November 1991, apparently falling into the sea at night from his luxury yacht.  The government had to pay out £ 100 million to refund the pensions, and a further £ 276 million was obtained from City institutions and the remnants of Maxwell’s media group.  As mentioned elsewhere, my sister-in-law used to assist him in his annual audits of a company he owned for a while in Edinburgh. 

I recall the old Aberdeen Savings Bank that was set up by thrifty Scots as a kind of mutual bank that was owned by its depositors.  My mother was among thousands of low-income Scots who had savings accounts in that bank.  The name was later changed to the “Trustee Savings Bank” – surely as events transpired, a total contradiction in terms.  Mrs Thatcher’s greedy city financiers got their covetous eyes on the TSB and wanted it “privatized”.  The Scottish High Court ruled such a move illegal as that bank was “owned by its depositors”.  Not to be out-done, the sharks and vultures of the city of London had the case taken before the High court in London.  They were supported in this by the TSB “trustees” who stuffed meetings full of their own staff and did all in their power to prevent genuine depositors from participating.  Those known to have strong views on the subject, or to be articulate spokespersons were marked for particular discrimination.  So the English High Court ruled in favour of the privatization deal.  The TSB deceitfully promised depositors that the bank would remain a Scottish bank with its headquarters in Edinburgh.  It took them only 2 years to renege on that promise.  

However brazen and unscrupulous the greed of those in control of banks and financial institutions was in the decades 1985 to 2005, - it has since been dwarfed by the avarice and opportunism of the current heads of our banks, the supposed stewards of our nations’ financial assets. We have all of Europe and much of North America sliding into debt that will take at least a generation to pay off by higher taxes and reduced welfare or health care.  The hard-earned savings and funds accumulatd by diligent workers have been gambled and squandered in the global stock exchange casinos, - just to reap larger and more obscene bonuses for the money manipulators.  Astonishingly, all our governments can think of as a remedy is to get taxpayers to bail out the rotten investment banks, and to maintain their chiefs in undeserved affluence.  

I record the assortment of major financial crimes above to illustrate what I see as a basic weakness of the whole capitalist system.  It is founded on human greed and avarice.  The modern day Midas’s, Shylock’s and Scrooge’s, though they wear immaculate business suits and conform to cultural norms, possess rotten, covetous hearts that often lead them into opportunist crimes of fraud, embezzlement and exploitation.  Fortunately not all businessmen are like that.  Some very successful leaders in finance and industry have been able to resist temptation and to place limits on their appetites for greater profits.  But sadly, some operators have fouled their corporate nests and robbed thousands of investors, customers and/or employees in the process.  My thesis is that we inflame the greed of corporate executives by demanding them to produce higher and higher profits, and by praising and honouring the ones who excel.  Corporate and financial success is not measured by the production of affordable goods, by the creation of sustainable jobs paying reasonable wages, or by passing benefits on to customers in the form of lower charges or lesser interest.   No, it is mostly seen in the narrow context of huge profits. 

I see a parallel (if I may express an older generation’s view), in advertising, in film and video and music, and in the media’s shameless use of sensational sex and sex images, that just have to have an impact on our teens and pre-teens, when there is little balancing effort to promote values of decency and modesty, restraint or discipline.  So be it in a free society I guess.  But why then should we be surprised when teenage pregnancies reach an all time high, and when venereal disease and aids are rampant, when couples put their own pleasure and indulgence before the welfare of their children or the hurt caused to injured parties.  In both the business and the entertainment world, passions are fed that will inevitably result in excessively selfish behaviour.  My own view which many will no doubt consider to be narrow or old-fashioned, is that we need to get back to reminding ourselves of the bedrock importance to individuals and society of virtues like honesty, integrity, truthfulness, loyalty, self-control, and purity, - to say nothing of courtesy, consideration, kindness and goodness.  We should also give our children the opportunity to learn these beautiful qualities at school and in the home, through appropriate literature, poetry, and – dare I say it, from the Bible. 

As wealth has been amassed the financial assets of banks have increased, opportunities afforded to global businesses and corporations have likewise expanded.  This has opened the door to theft, manipulation and asset-stripping, on scales that would have been impossible a few decades ago.  Corporate thieves and cheating bankers have grasped the opportunities presented with alacrity.  These robbers use no guns or balaclavas, neither do they come from the ranks of the disadvantaged or from conventional criminal elements in society.  They wear business suits and ride in chauffeur-driven limousines.  They lecture to students of business and economics in the prestigious universities.  They advise our government leaders on economic and financial policy.   They present themselves as society’s benefactors and wealth-creators, rather than the money manipulators they are.  And until their crimes are apparent, they are lauded and revered in the pages of the Wall street Journal and the Financial Times.  Many were regular guests at the White House or in 10 Downing Street.   Some British Cabinet Ministers, European Presidents or Prime Ministers, and U.S. Senators and Congressmen, have been their bedfellows, or willing participants in their fraudulent schemes.   

Embezzlers, Fraudsters, Swindlers, and those guilty of mismanagement on a colossal scale

The end of the 20th century brought globalisation of financial markets which grew in the volume and complexity of their business.  It also saw increased amalgamation of banks and financial institutions into huge organisations for the management and utilisation of money provided by savers, businesses, and government.  These immense institutions for handling and manipulating funds provided unprecedented opportunity to unscrupulous, greed-driven, and arrogant managers or senior officials.  Colossal sums were diverted, stolen, and embezzled, through innumerable sophisticated and fraudulent schemes. Other vast amounts of people’s money were lost by sheer incompetence or arrogant obstinance displayed by financial traders and government ministers.  Below are some of the rogues in the gallery of major thieves and bunglers.  Readers may well note how few of them received any meaningful punishment, and how many were left free to enjoy their ill-gotten gains, or to be applauded despite their disastrous performances.

Roberto Calvi of Banco Ambrosio was found hanging under London Bridge, his clothing stuffed with bricks, in June 1982.  Some $1.2 billion was missing from the bank’s subsidiaries, (including the Vatican Bank whose head, Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus was also a Director of Ambrosio). Amazingly, a British jury delivered a verdict of suicide. Judge Almerighi of Italy later concluded that two Mafia men contracted for the murder, a Calvi employee set him up, and a Grand Master of the P2 Masonic Lodge in Rome, paid the fee.  All their names are available on the internet.  Bishop Marcinkus was protected by his church and died in 2006 without ever facing a criminal court.  At least two books suggest that he and his criminal network may have been responsible for the early death of the saintly Pope John Paul 1 in September 1978 after a reign of only 33 days.

Roberto Calvi, Italian banker, killed (apparently) by the Mafia

Agha Hasan Abedi, a Pakistan national, founded the Bank of Commerce International, or BCCI in the 1970’s, and with his partner, Swaleh Naqvi, constructed an international web of branches designed among other things to evade regulation and government control.  It specialised in a bewildering variety of criminal behaviour, from fraud and money laundering, to tax evasion and arms traficking.  Prominent officials in 73 countries were bribed to obtain their cooperation and protection.  BCCI did business with customers as varied as the late CIA Director, Bill Casey, and Manuel Noriega of Panama.  It collapsed in 1991 with debts of over $15 billion. Those blamed for not stopping BCCI earlier, included the Bank of England, Price Waterhouse, and Abu Dhabi.

Neil Bush, brother of President George W Bush, was one of the senior partners and managers of Savings and Loan banks in the USA.  This huge organisation was cleverly constructed and cynically operated to benefit from loose regulatory controls and generous Federal Insurance cover, to lend to clients and cronies through labyrinthal and untracable pathways, moneys which in most cases could not be recovered.  One official, James Fail, invested only $1,000 of his own money to purchase 15 failing S & L banks, and was reimbursed with $1.85 million in Federal subsidies.  This was perhaps one of the largest ‘milkings’ of a Federal cow in America’s history, - except that it was the ordinary saver and the taxpayers who footed the bill.  Believed to be involved in the whole scam business were a Houston group of influential persons that included George Bush senior, his other son, Governor Jeb Bush, former Secretary of State James Baker, and some Senators.  George Bush senior delayed investigations into S & L till after the 1988 election, thus raising its collapse cost to the US taxpayer from $20 billion to $150 billion.  One S & L chief got just 3 ½ years for theft of $8.7 million. Most other culprits escaped with barely a slap on the wrist.

David Walsh was the founder and CEO of Bre-X a Canadian mining company that claimed to have discovered enormous gold deposits around Busang river in Kalimantan, Indonesia.  The fraudulent reports were concocted by John Felderhof and Michael de Guzman, the company’s chief mining engineers.  Attracted by global publicity and the promise of huge profits, 40,000 mainly Canadian investors put over $3 billion of their savings into the company.  But the gold report was a hoax, and they lost everything. BRE-X filed for bankruptcy in 1997.   David Walsh, who lived in the Bahamas, died suddenly at 52 years of age, and Michael de Guzman, a Philippine citizen, reportedly jumped out of a helicopter over the Borneo jungle.  John Felderhof who lived in the Cayman Isles, was left to face the courts and the thousands of deceived investors.

Callisto Tanzi, founder of the Italian long life milk company, Parmalat, together with his financial directors, Fausto Tonna and Luciano Del Soldato, were tried for massive fraud involving a Bank of America subsidiary in the Cayman Islands.  The company collapsed in 2004 with debts variously estimated at between 4 and 13 billion Euros.  Auditors and senior bank officers in a number of countries were also implicated.  The government of Silvio Berlusconi may also have been involved in covering up or protecting the company in some ways.

Parmalat, the Italian milk company that collapsed with corruption debts of 4 to 13 billion Euros.

Kenneth Lay, chairman of Enron, headed an enormous corporation that indulged in fraud and deception to an unprecedented degree. He was charged with 11 criminal counts including conspiracy, securities fraud and bank fraud.  Enron’s accounting firm, Arthur Andersen was also indicted.  It was said that it turned to crime to keep a crooked client happy. Many of Enron’s senior personnel were close friends of the Bush administration, and big donors to its political campaigns. Also under investigation was the politically influential Herbert S ‘Pug’ Winokur, chairman of the Enron finance committee.  Testifying before Congress he denied fraud.  The company’s criminal activities cost investors $30 billion in stock losses.  Kenneth Lay has since died, and his Vice Chairman Clifford Baxter was shot in January 2002.  Some say both deaths were a relief to senior administration figures connected to Enron.  Lay’s lawyers are trying to have his conviction wiped off the record.  That move is strange, and it raises a suspicion among conspiracy theorists that perhaps he did not die, but simply disappeared and might reappear after some time when the public has lost most of the memories of the fraudulent crimes.  At any rate the courts have declared that his family is now free to keep his ill-gotten gains.  Other more troubling suspicions are being raised about Enron’s links to White House foreign and energy policy and the huge but strange energy deal with Dubhol, Bombay.  More will no doubt emerge.  Now Enron’s former CEO Jeffrey Skilling has been given a 24 year sentence – the first really heavy penalty on the corporate criminals. 

Below are some more characters in the rogue’s gallery of fraud and manipulation:

Michael Milken, the ‘junk bond’ king, lost $650 million of investors’ money in 1989.

Nick Leeson lost over $1 billion by incompetent trading, and destroyed Barings Bank in 1995.  In 1999 this hero was paid $100,000 to speak at a business conference in Holland.

Toshihule Iguchi of the Daiwa Bank, lost $1.1 billion over 12 years while dealing in treasury bonds.  He claimed in 1995 that superiors encouraged him to hide the losses.

Peter Young, a fund manager with Morgan Grenfell, lost over $600 million by 1996, through holding companies and dubious loans and investments.

Yasuo Hamanaka, copper trader, lost the Sumitomo corporation $2.6 billion over 10 years to 1996.  He was jailed for 8 years.  (That works out at $300 million per year !)

Bernie Ebbers was CEO of WorldCom, that inflated profits and engaged in false accounting till its collapse in 2002 with $3.85 billions of debt.  He was jailed for 25 years, like Skilling of Enron, one of the few to get a long sentence.  He could not have had any political friends!

Bernie Ebbers, CEO of WorldCom.  False accounting in that corporation led to debts of $ 3.85 billion.  One of the few financial culprits to receive a heavy sentence, he must have had few friends in senior positions in government or the judiciary.

The way modern judicial systems treat big crooks and small offenders, is eloquently described by Robert McChesney in his book, Rich Media, Poor Democracy :  “Blue collar crime generates harsh sentences while white collar crime (almost always for vastly greater amounts of money), gets kid gloves treatment by comparison.  In 2000 for example, a Texan man received sixteen years in prison for stealing a Snickers candy bar, while at the same time, four executives at Hoffman-LaRoche Ltd. were found guilty of conspiring to suppress and eliminate competition in the vitamin industry, in what the Justice Department called perhaps the largest criminal antitrust conspiracy in history.  The cost to consumers and public health was nearly immeasurable.  The four executives were fined from $75,000 to $350,000 and received prison terms ranging from three to four months.”  How can ordinary people have confidence in a national justice system when the ‘çream’ of society behaves like those mentioned above?  - And when justice is obviously not impartial, and those occupying high office who may not have been involved in illegalities, refuse to prosecute, or to release information from investigations conducted with taxpayers money, - what are the general public to think? 

Our Judicial and Penal Systems

My impressions of the fairness and decency of our police took an early knock when one New Year’s eve, I and a friend came across a drunk man lying in a semi-conscious condition, in a street near the harbour.  It was a dry but bitterly cold night, and we assumed that the man would freeze to death or die of exposure if he remained there.  We were just teenage boys and were not sure what the correct course of action should be, but as the Police Station was just 200 yards up the road, we thought it would be as good a place as any to take him for shelter.  Our reception was less than friendly.  The sole officer on duty must have been hoping for a quiet night, and resented having the responsibility for a drunk thrust upon him.  Apparently he knew the man, who was not local.  We had to stay while the policeman went through the routine of searching the man’s pockets and recording the few possessions and little bit of money he had.  This was carried out with little respect for the person, and with considerable rough handling by the officer.  He then removed the fellow’s shoes, belt and tie, and threw him into a cell, returning only to toss a blanket in after him.  No doubt the treatment was much better than such a man would have received in most other countries, but to me it was strangely heavy-handed given that he had committed no crime other than to put himself in a position of danger in his drunken stupor.  I guess I was just very young and naïve, but I determined then that if I ever found a person in similar vulnerable circumstances, police stations would be well down my list of possible places of refuge.

Years later I was to visit prisons in Britain, Africa, and the Far East, and to see first hand how these recipients of justice are treated.  We lived not far from Saughton prison in Scotland, and I used to visit Peterhead prison with church ministry teams.  I saw prisons in African states, and in Yemen, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Italy.  When I visited Yemen, prisoners were often allowed out with leg irons and shackles on, to forage for food as best they could.  In one provincial capital in Thailand, I witnessed prisoners emerging from court, chained hand and foot, and put onto prison transport vans to the sound of weeping from mothers, sisters and relatives.

Barlinnie prison, Scotland

Young man from Britain, imprisoned in Bangkok’s notorious prison for drug offenders.

Now, I have no doubt that imprisonment is necessary for men of violence.  One lovely girl I knew at school was later murdered in Canada by a prisoner on parole who she took pity on and allowed to work in her garden.  But that man was also mentally ill.  It is also clear that there has to be a strict regime to control large numbers of potentially dangerous criminals, and that such men have forfeted the right to many comforts.  That I accept.  However, it seems to me, after much thought and some study of the subject, that prison itself accomplishes little and costs a lot.  In the case of young offenders, it can inform and equip them for even more and worse criminal activity. 

          Children incarcerated in a Manila prison

My own conclusion is that imprisonment should be used only for those that constitute a danger to the public, - namely the violent and abusive.  And even with them there has to be a better approach to mental and emotional health than our system can offer at present.  Those who offend due to drug addiction, or who are simply addicts, should not be housed with other criminals, - especially the young.  Our prisons are currently over-crowded, and the system can barely cope.  Reducing numbers would save the country considerable unnecessary cost.  We need another Elizabeth Fry, - the Quaker lady who pioneered prison reforms.

Elizabeth Fry, the great Quaker lady who pioneered prison reform and relief for the poor and homeless.

That severe sentences with no balancing rehabilitative efforts only drive young people into becoming hardened criminals through the brutality and the despair it produces, is surely evident by the American experience.  The BBC documentary “Prisoners of Katrina”, lifted the lid on all that was wrong and corrupt in the judicial system of the USA – particularly in Louisiana.  What viewers saw was reminiscent of the kind of justice that existed in the least democratic and less civilized states in the world.  In the words of the BBC narrators, the system of justice was “bankrupt”.   Many of those who suffered appalling conditions in the New Orleans prisons, and who had their records destroyed for ever, were simply awaiting trial, and often for as little as a traffic violation or non-payment of a fine.  Most were black and poor, though some white prisoners also suffered. But they were incarcerated in crowded cells alongside murders and rapists. The episode was reminiscent of the kind of justice prevailing in the mock trials of white murderers of black people in the southern states until the time of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Legislation.

Now, no doubt some will argue that a ‘soft’ approach will be ineffective, and that one must wield a big stick.  My answer would be – take a look at the USA and its penal system before you tell me that a brutal response works.  Then others will ask for an example of a country where the soft approach yielded good results.  I will answer – Australia.  From 1788 to 1867, Britain shipped over 160,000 convicted criminals to Australia.  Not all were guilty of murder or violence, - many had committed petty offences.  But off to the colony they were sent, in appalling conditions, and under brutal supervisors.  The territory then had a series of military governors who took a “hang them and flog them” approach to the criminal immigrants who were assigned to whatever work their keepers desired.  They were also contracted out like slaves to the free settlers who could administer corporal punishment as they thought fit.

The sports dome in New Orleans that became a prison for victims of the Katrina storm                                 Right : Katrina victims in Louisiana, USA

One of the Governors with a reputation for harsh discipline was Captain William Bligh of the “Bounty” fame.  There have been attempts in recent days to rehabilitate Bligh and to present him as a stern but decent officer who had to mete out the prescribed punishments of his day.  If the Bounty mutiny was the only such one in his career, that might be plausible.  But it was not.  Some of his New South Wales colonists rebelled against him much like the crew of the Bounty had done earlier, and he was sent packing back to England.  He was replaced as Governor by a Scottish soldier Lachlan Macquarie who has been described as “hardheaded, clear-eyed, with a military sense of order, a martinet’s sense of discipline, and a Scotsman’s sense of fairness and justice”. [Scots and the British Empire, by Arthur Herman, in The Scottish Enlightenment, Fourth Estate 2001.

Lachlan MacQuarrie, the Scots colonial officer who pioneered humane treatment of prisoners in Australia.

Maquarie soon cleaned up the dreadful mess left for him by Bligh in what he termed the ‘pig stye’ of Sidney where ruinous decay was evident on every hand.  He banned the trade in rum, closed taverns during the times of church services, made church attendance compulsory for criminals, and established Sunday schools for children.  More importantly he treated the criminals as men and women rather than beasts of burden, and got them to clear up the city’s rubbish and spruce its appearance.  He then got them to build roads, schools, houses and hospitals.  In return he guaranteed them their freedom if they performed well.  One group of 60 prisoners was assigned to build a road across the Blue Mountains.  If they completed the 126 mile task in 6 months, they were promised their  liberty. [The actual time taken, distance covered, and number of prisoners involved, varies from account to account.  But whatever the precise details it was a remarkable feat.  Tour guides to the Blue Mountains today, delight in relating a variety of ‘incentives’ they say were influential in getting the prisoners to work so hard.]  Amazingly the former criminals did just that.  Maquarie argued that this was usually the outcome when incentives were used rather than coercion. 

Maquarie was followed by another Scot, Thomas Brisbane.  Though his brief from London was to reimpose harsh discipline, instead he expanded Maquarie’s reforms.  Following Brisbane a series of new Governors tried to bring back flogging and brutal discipline with depressing results, but in 1840, when Alexander Maconachie, a former naval officer and geography professor took command of Norfolk island and its prison colony, penal reform went even further.  He introduced many humane and far-sighted improvements to handle the colony’s most recalcitrant prisoners, set up a prison library, and even started an orchestra.  In Britain, such reform had to wait a few more decades, but in Australia they were an early success.   The UK government ceased to use convict ships after 1867.

Whatever form of penalty society decides for those that offend against its laws, three principles ought to be applied in my view, namely : retribution; reparation; and reformation.  Retribution or punishment ought to fit the crime.  To my mind the penalties we currently apply, jail and fines, do not do so very well at all.  Prison leaves no scope for compensation of victims, and fines only hurt the poorest, who can often escape by pleading their inability.  Both Australia and Canada have experimented successfully with reparation-related service for juvenile offenders that both provide a degree of compensation for victims, and oblige the offenders to face the consequences of their actions and make some amends.  In the Philippines there is a penal colony near Puerto Princessa, Palawan, where prisoners are permitted to raise crops and earn money, under supervision, and to enjoy a degree of semi-freedom in return for good behaviour and cooperation.

Prisoners or offenders permitted a degree of liberty should both be permitted to work to raise funds to reimburse their victims.  This kind of measure would have several effects.  First, the victim would receive some compensation; second, the offender would feel a degree of redemption in performing that duty, and third, the employment undertaken would be therapeutic on the prisoner and beneficial to society.  Some countries permit the establishment of factories close to prisons where the non-violent inmates can be usefully employed during the day.

Prison Reform

An additional and more recent example, which had some interesting success and some problems with vacillating political support, can be seen in Scotland, and in its largest city Glasgow, which for much of the 20th century had a reputation for violent crime, hooliganism and sectarian attacks. 

The main prison serving Glasgow and housing its most notorious convicts was Barlinnie, a grim Victorian complex built on farmland near the city’s east end in 1894, to hold 1,000 prisoners.  It got little improvement over the years, prisoners having to use chamber pots that they were permitted to slop out once a day.  The prison was also the location of the final series of hangings carried out in Scotland in the 20 years after WW2.

From 1973 to 1995, Barlinnie was the unlikely location of a visionary experiment in penal theory and practice.  It took the form of a Special Unit where a small group of selected long term prisoners were held together in a secure area that had a more relaxed regime.  They were allowed to wear their own clothes, listen to music of their choice, and read their own books.  They were also encouraged to engage in hobby activities like sculpture, painting and writing.  The initiative was the brain child of (along with others), a leading forensic psychologist, Ian Stephen of Aberdeen who had been working with young offenders in Glasgow.

Two hard criminals who eventually had their lives and attitudes straightened out during periods in the Special Unit, were Jimmy Boyle and Hugh Collins, both of whom went on to write books and produce marketable works of art.  Both Boyle and Collins spent years in solitary confinement and in punishment cages, and have not been slow to criticize the prison system overall.  Even the Special Unit was castigated for some of its activities.  Collins said, “The Special Unit saved me but it also tortured me.  I was made into a pet lion for the social workers, psychologists and lawyers who came there.  Some of it was disgusting.  These people were like groupies.  They patronized you, got a thrill from being near you.” But he went on to condemn his violent past in no uncertain terms.  “All violence is evil.  Whether it is Myra Hindley killing children, me killing Willie Mooney, those kids killing Jamie Bulger, a British soldier shooting girl joy-riders in Ireland, or the airforce bombing of innocent Iraqis.” 

Barlinnie was blest for periods by chaplains of vision, compassion and strength of character.  Two notable ones had both served in churches in Easterhouse, one of the city’s most depressed areas.  Bill Christman from Missouri was so affected by poverty he witnessed in West Virginia, he entered the ministry, studied in Scotland served a while in the difficult area of Niddrie in Edinburgh.  After further studies in Harvard he returned to Scotland and following Easterhouse became a Chaplain at Barlinnie.  One of his successors was Ron Ferguson who also served in Easterhouse, and later at the Iona Community, and now in Orkney.

The Barlinnie Special Unit suffered latterly from somewhat loose management, and from negative publicity that portrayed the programme as one that coddled criminals who deserved to be punished.  While there was some truth to stories of insufficient controls and naïve programmes, much of the criticism came from elements in the press and public which were always ready to seize on such impressions for their own ends.  Politicians, also, eager for short term kudos, were only to willing to curtail or end the experiment.  It might be noted that shortly before and after its demise there were embarrassing protests by prisoners in Barlinnie, over the conditions they had to endure.  The press and television were eventually allowed to report on these, and it was a revelation to most how we were treating the offenders we incarcerate, at the end of the 20th century.

Our systems of incarceration and treatment of drug addicts is badly in need of a major overhaul.  Too often the whole system is run on the ideas of a liberal elite whose success record is pitiful.  We need to analyse thoroughly the addict recovery rates of those in programs run by charities and church groups as well as the direct government programmes.  Resources and opportunities ought to go to those with the best track record in rehabilitating former drug users.  Programmes that have less than 5 per cent success ought to be disbanded.  As far as possible, the use of other substances to stabilize addicts or to wean them off hard drugs, ought to be minimized.  That does not mean that I under-estimate the enormous task involved.  Along with many others I and my wife have struggled over periods to assist and support and encourage, individual alcoholics and drug users, mainly in Scotland, but also abroad.

Apart from their failure to rehabilitate or change the attitudes of prisoners, our penal systems and institutions are enormously expensive.  We are getting close to the point where we may spend more on jailing offenders than we do on educating the next generation.  Sir Ken Robinson has written and lectured widely on these issues in Brtain, in the USA, and throughout the world. 

Sir Ken Robinson, radical thinker and pioneer in education and developing the full potential of young people and students.  He has also advocated more humane and effective programmes to deal with offenders in our societies. 

Two final comments on the judicial system, and I will spare the reader further opinion on the subject.  The first concerns sentencing, and the other involves our success or failure in determining guilt or innocence.  Most readers will agree that something is wrong when crooks who embezzle millions are treated lightly while those guilty of crimes that cause a few hundred pounds or thousand pounds of damage, are given severe sentences in comparison.  Our courts are also surprisingly lenient on rapists and child abusers.  We need a national symposium to look afresh and in depth at the whole issue.

The past few decades have witnessed a disturbingly high number of miscarriages of justice.  Convictions have been overturned after those found guilty had served many years in jail.  Police and prosecutors have been found to have manufactured evidence and/or destroyed or covered up some that did not support the case.  There would appear to be far too much pressure for a conviction applied by the government on the police authorities, on cases of political interest.  How can that be rectified? The police service, like the NHS, the military, and the courts, must be de-politicised.  Punishments for perjury, influencing witnesses, and contaminating evidence, ought to be severe.

Justice is indivisible.  When we deny justice to any member of society, whatever their station, we deny it to all.  When our Ministers of Justice, government officers, judges, police, procurators, and related authorities, lie or cover up, or distort the truth, whether out of political pressure or self-protection, - all society suffers, and our justice system is brought into disrepute.   But the same applies when we deny justice to refugees and immigrants.  The USA and Britain are expanding their new practice of holding persons in custody without charge or trial.  They started to do so with foreigners, and are now beginning to treat some of our own citizens with a similar disregard for their civil rights.  The two are linked.  If we fail to give justice to the “stranger within our gates”, we will soon find it convenient to do the same to those of our own people who we would like to be silenced. 

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