x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

From the desk of Frank Kane: vampires and Vladimir

There was only one topic for discussion at the coffee shops and restaurants of the DIFC last Wednesday: the ignominious outing of Goldman Sachs, writes Frank Kane.

The tide of global public opinion is running against Goldman. Reuters
The tide of global public opinion is running against Goldman. Reuters

There was only one topic for discussion at the coffee shops and restaurants of the DIFC last Wednesday: the ignominious outing of Goldman Sachs.

Within minutes of The New York Times publishing an article by Greg Smith, a former employee at the "sacks of gold" financial outfit who spent some time in the Middle East as a derivatives trader, bankers and financiers were asking the question: was this the beginning of the end for Goldman?

They have been debating it since.

Reactions ran the full spectrum.

"It couldn't happen to nicer people," sneered one executive from an investment bank.

"He's just a naive fool who's blown any career he had in finance," said another, who also conceded Mr Smith might have a promising future as a media columnist and author.

We'll see. But the tide of global public opinion is running against Goldman. The "vampire squid" that says it is "doing God's work" on behalf of the clients it calls "muppets" is facing an uphill climb against a surge of negativity.

The real problem is not the central allegation: that Goldman behaved unethically towards its clients by screwing money out of them at every possible opportunity. Isn't that what investment banks are supposed to do?

The expressions of support for Goldman that came from virtually all rival Wall Street banks showed that many could be vulnerable to the same charge.

What's more damaging to the bank is the fact that, for the first time, one of its insiders has broken the code of silence inculcated in all Goldman employees. It's almost like a Mafia member giving evidence to the prosecution.

Relations with the outside world, via the media, have always been tightly controlled by the bank. Most copy was good copy. Bad copy seldom made it into the public domain.

Now that the internal code of omertà has been broken, the gates of embarrassing revelations could open.

In this, Goldman is a bit like Rupert Murdoch's News International media business, which has been damaged to the very brink of destruction by the steady drip of internal secrets. "No one likes us, we don't care" has for years been the theme song of a thuggish south London football club called Millwall. Strange that the leading international investment bank, as well as the global media entrepreneur, now echo that defensive chant.

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I would have missed this if my Russian-speaking friends hadn't spotted it on the TV schedules, but a couple of days ago one of their TV channels broadcast an unprecedented event: a more or less open debate from Moscow on the fate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oligarch who's been in a Siberian jail for years.

The studio audience and a selected panel, both supporters and enemies of the tycoon, were asked to answer the simple question: "Khodorkovsky - Go Home?"

Their answer was overwhelmingly "yes". Some 69 per cent of the audience wanted him set free, regardless of the fact he still has several years of his sentence to run. Mr Khodorkovsky didn't even have to say sorry, or pledge to stay out of politics. They just wanted him out for the good of the country.

The result, and the mere fact that the programme was broadcast at all, are sure signs that, despite his election to the presidency, Vladimir Putin is seriously tarnished as the leader of a country that increasingly wants to be taken seriously in the world.

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Safa Park has long been my favourite open space in Dubai. My little girl loves it for the play areas, the swings, the ducks and the little kiddies' funfair there for most of the year.

I've always enjoyed sitting down to a picnic on Safa's lawns on a Friday afternoon with the Burj Khalifa in the background and, seemingly, a representative of every nation on earth in the near vicinity.

But now there is a big problem. A sizeable part of the boating lake had become a breeding ground for mosquitos. The thick carpet of hatching insects was horrible to see; what they would do to me later was horrible to contemplate.

Dubai Municipality should deal urgently with this ugly health hazard.

fkane@thenational.ae

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