Bernie Madoff and The Rangers
The warning signs were all there but nobody asked the right questions.
Well, not quite, some did ask but most were not for listening.
And so it was with both Craig Whyte and Bernie Madoff.
Madoff’s criminality was of an exponentially greater scale than Whyte - $65 billion in a Ponzi scheme - but his lack of principles was the same.
I recently read two books on the crimes of Bernie Madoff - both of them offer interesting insights into the psychology of the man, his victims, those who profited by doing his bidding and those who tried to blow the whistle.
It will forever be a stain on our club and on our support that collectively we didn’t stop Craig Whyte taking over the club, that we failed collectively to heed the warning signs and that we fumbled the opportunity to control the club ourselves. But those are side matters to the point of this article.
We can blame others, we can blame ourselves - but ultimately being taken for mugs is something that happens to us all at one time or another - this just happens to be a spectacular example.
In Diane Henriques excellent book “Bernie Madoff, The Wizard Of Lies” she offers the opinion that “Any number of crimes may be committed by a seedy-looking, shifty-eyed, inarticulate grifter in a cheap suit and scuffed shoes, but a Ponzi scheme is never going to be one of them. Yet almost every Madoff victim, including the SEC, trusted him precisely because he seemed so trustworthy.”
Our shame is that we got done over by Craig Whyte and he just never looked like a Rangers chairman - “a seedy-looking, shifty-eyed, inarticulate grifter in a cheap suit.”
Yet this charlatan made it past the massed ranks of Sir David Murray’s empire, the bank, rows of lawyers and the fit and proper person test at the SFA (stop sniggering at the back) - so the ordinary man in the street had little beyond a gut feeling with which to counter the wave of enthusiasm which greeted him.
Several times Bernie Madoff lied to the Securities and Exchange COmmission and fully expected the FBI to knock on his door in the morning - but the knock never came. The investigators didn’t ask the right questions and they didn’t check the wrong answers. Craig Whyte almost got away with it - if we had gotten into the Champions League group stages or if the Tax Tribunal had ruled earlier I reckon he could have pulled it off.
“Con man” is a short hand for “confidence man” - that’s how frauds work - they appear more clever, more experienced, more confident, more in control - you ignore unpleasant realities because the consequences are too awful to imagine. People admire the life of luxury, his success, are flattered when he talks to you, tell yourself how respected they are, are envious of the money he makes but console yourself that sophisticated people speak highly of him. That’s how they do it. So don’t blame yourself.
Additionally, while some of us thought Whyte’s CV was a little peculiar - we lacked the hard evidence of criminality. The gap in his CV, his sojourn in Monte Carlo, etc, did, with hindsight, point to problems but with no knowledge of his disbarment as director you could be forgiven for assuming he made his money offshore playing the markets. Naive perhaps but to believe that someone could buy Rangers with no funds of his own to back it up was beyond our imagining.
One of Madoff’s victims spoke about the advantage criminals have over the rest of us - their imagination. Elie Wiesel is an Auschwitz survivor who lost $15million and most of the funds of his memorial foundation to Madoff. Wiesel said the victims of the Nazis and of Madoff could not be expected to comprehend the criminals ability to imagine the crimes they would commit because they are able to think of crimes that are simply too grotesque for the victims ever to comprehend.
After Whyte departed the building the club saw a number of bidders - did we ever subject many of them to the sort of due diligence we should have? Did we ask the right questions?
Are we, as a support, asking the right questions now?
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