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Remembering Charles Raw: A rigorous financial investigator of the 1970s.
One can sense the frustration of the British public. We are ten years on from the big banking collapse of 2008 and the long period of austerity that has followed it. But for the fraudulent, greedy, negligent and reckless bankers, what has been their punishment? Where are all the jail sentences, the fines and the confiscations of assets?
The angry perception is that the establishment has closed ranks and the major culprits have escaped scot-free. For example, there has been no disciplinary proceeding, disqualification or prosecution of any RBS executive. The FSA report of 2011 on the near-collapse of RBS was scorned by the public as a pathetic whitewash. And more recently in 2017 the FRC re-confirmed its initial finding of no blame to the auditors KPMG even though the HBOS bank needed a taxpayers’ bail-out, via a Lloyds takeover, soon after KPMG in 2007 had issued an unqualified thumbs-up on the bank’s financial health.
Charles Raw and the Sunday Times ‘Insight’ team
The financial journalist Charles Raw was a serial author of big-name financial stories of the 1970s. These included the IOS swindle; the rise and fall of Slater Walker; and the mystery of Roberto Calvi the Italian banker found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in 1982.
Charles Raw was a member of the renowned Sunday Times ‘Insight Team’ and his speciality was probing and challenging suspicious areas of the financial markets. His career as a journalist included holding the post of Financial Editor at the Sunday Times and later at The Guardian. He was voted Investigative Journalist of the Year by Granada Television’s What the Papers Say and he received British Press Awards for his work on Slater Walker and the Crown Agents.
I wonder what Charles Raw would have written about HBOS and RBS if the demise of those banks had occurred in the 1970s. His investigations were always rigorous and relentless. His research was penetratingly deep. He never shirked from asking awkward questions, and if he didn’t believe or like the answer, he would say so.
‘Do You Sincerely Want to be Rich?’ Bernard Cornfeld and IOS: An International Swindle (Andre Deutsch, 1971; copyright Times newspapers, 1971)
Beware: Have you received a call from someone trying to sell you investments that they say will lead to huge financial gain?
The above is one of the red-light situations warned of in a NatWest bank leaflet of 2017 advising customers how to protect against fraud.
However, back in the 1960s when the silver-tongued and charismatic Bernard Cornfeld asked people ‘Do You Sincerely Want to be Rich?’ he and his sales team hooked in a vast number of customers all over the world. When IOS (Investors Overseas Services) crashed in 1970 it was controlling one thousand million pounds of mutual funds. Thousands upon thousands of investors, big and small, lost their money.
In the book co-authored by Charles Raw, Bruce Page and Godfrey Hodgson the story was laid bare: Bernard Cornfeld, born 1927 in Istanbul, brought up in New York, grew IOS into a financial colossus. Alas, as is claimed and is surely well proved in the book, the organisation was ‘steeped in financial and intellectual dishonesty.’
Amongst many other things the book brings out the sobering truth that however hard the regulators try to halt financial crime by passing new laws to close loopholes, the crooks will always find a new way to circumvent the authorities. London was a favourite centre where IOS traded, and the book reveals how shamefully easy it was for IOS and their British firm of legal advisors to dupe the City. For example, currency exchange controls were evaded. For another example, it was illegal in Britain for salesmen to sell shares … but it could be done under the guise of an insurance policy and IOS duly ran with the then new-fangled ‘equity linked’ insurance product.
Slater Walker: ‘An Investigation of a Financial Phenomenon’ (Andre Deutsch, 1977)
As solo author Charles Raw examined the rise of the leading British financier Jim Slater and his partner Peter Walker. The book isn’t as sexy and exciting as the Bernard Cornfeld one. Jim Slater was not a man for the jet set fast life of casinos, yachts and screen starlets such as Victoria Principal of the Dallas television series who was one of Cornfeld’s many amours. But in addition to exposing dubious ethical standards in the City of London the book affords a nostalgic look-back to a pre-Thatcherite 1960s and 1970s era when the London stock exchange afforded rampant opportunity of share–dealing in the fortunes of thousands of British manufacturing companies.
That was Jim Slater’s forte: at an early age he had found a Midas touch making personal gain from his shrewd trading of shares on the stock exchange. The early chapters of Charles Raw’s book trace in meticulous and fascinating detail the confident self-belief and ambition of the young Slater and also the young Peter Walker whose ultimate destiny would be cabinet minister posts in the Conservative governments of the 1970s and 1980s. Both men came from very ordinary middle-class families and neither of them excelled in any notable way at school.
The book dwells substantially on Slater’s financial career and it constantly probes the legitimacy of the Slater Walker business empire. Along the way we are reminded that Jim Slater was one of the earliest protagonists of so-called ‘asset-stripping’, albeit this practice never made him as feared or unpopular as the notorious John Bentley of that same 1970s era.
‘Wealth for a privileged group’: It was ever thus?
‘Our attitude to the IOS phenomenon was not one of admiration.’ As rebukes go, that one in 1971 is a mild-sounding rebuke indeed from Charles Raw and his fellow authors of the Bernard Cornfeld book. But might we say that it was a rebuke of much harder bite than the whitewash verdicts of the FSA and the FRC on RBS and HBOS nearly half a century later?
On Slater Walker the verdict of Charles Raw was to dismiss any perception that Jim Slater added precious capital investment into British industry, to help modernise the sector and make Britain more competitive. Instead, argued Charles Raw, the stock market was played by Jim Slater to earn wealth for a privileged group via ‘share dealings and other financial activities of questionable social or material value.’ That indictment sounds like a horribly familiar echo of the 2008 banking collapse and crisis.
Previous articles by Jerry Dowlen in the Books Monthly Archives include:
Rumpole December 2017
Roger Moore as Ivanhoe
Future Rock: Music and Politics in the 1970s
The New Love Poetry and London's 1967 Unforgettable Summer of Love
The author E.M. Forster (1879 – 1970) in books and films.
The novelist R.F.
Delderfield and his heroes who roam from home.
How The Wild West Was Written
Emmeline Pankhurst and Florence Foster Jenkins
Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train
H G Wells
In praise of the British Seaside!Girls Just Wanna Have Fun in 1963: Christine Keeler & Nell Dunn
Politicians, Pop Stars and Preachers - John Mortimer's Characters of 1986
Shakespeare's 400th Centenary
Gregory's Girl: Remembering the Hit Film
The Impact and Legacy of Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
A Tribute to Margaret Forster
Remembering Saeed Jaffrey
Old Wine in New Bottles - "new" books by Margery Allingham, Raymond Chandler & Agatha Christie
Remembering Ruth Rendell
Philip Larkin: His Maiden Voyage on The North Ship (1945)
The Catcher in the Rye and Billy Liar
Erle Stanley Gardner
Antony Sher: The History Man
Edmund Crispin, Crime Fiction Author
Computer Chess: The Imitation Game
P G Wodehouse
John Betjeman and Candida Lycett Green
Sherlock Holmes: The Seven Per Cent Solution
Muriel Spark & Jane Gardam
The Story of Edith Nesbit
Anthony Gilbert and Michael Gilbert
Rebels With A Cause
Inspector Winter: Gwendoline Butler's First Detective
The Carlton, The Commodore, and the Embassy - Orpington's Three Cinemas
The Bergerac Police Adventure Series
It's All In The Mind - Margery Allingham and Graham Greene
Berlin: Cold War Spy Thrillers
The Life and Centenary of Barbara Pym
D H Lawrence: The Sniggering Legacy of Lady Chatterley's Lover...
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