May 03, 2008

Robert Vesco, fugitive pirate, reportedly dead in Cuba

If Mr. Vesco indeed eluded the American authorities until his final day, it was the fitting end to his nearly four decades on the run. He was wanted for, among other things, bilking some $200 million from credulous investors in the 1970s, making an illegal contribution to Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign and trying to arrange a deal during the Carter administration to let Libya buy American planes in exchange for bribes to United States officials.
Having lived comfortably in Havana for more than a dozen years, Mr. Vesco was convicted and jailed there for fraud in 1996 after reportedly double-crossing Fidel Castro’s relatives in a bogus wonder-drug deal.
After serving most of his time in a private cell in a large prison in eastern Cuba, Mr. Vesco was quietly released in 2005 and lived so simply in recent years in Havana that a friend said he did not know what had happened to his fortune.

A last Vanishing Act for Robert Vesco, Fugitive, by Marc Lacey and Jonathan Kandell of The New York Times

It's hard not to compare the $200 million gained by the wiley Mr. Vesco with the salaries granted to the principals of financial services companies imploding right and left around the globe these days. Mr. Vesco purposely engineered the financial fiasco that lead to his wealth; the officers of financial services companies are somewhat more thoughtlessly complicit in creating the conditions for the fiasco we're currently experiencing. But such officers are granted salaries of the same order of magnitude as the sum said to have been lifted by Mr. Vesco, some nine-digit number sanctioned with a straight face by the Board of Directors at places like Bear Stearns and Citbank and Countywide for the services of the fellow who was all the while not only heading the company right off the cliff, but reaching out and joining hands with others all across the financial serivices sector to jump at the same time.

The principals, the officers of all the financial services companies currently going to rack and ruin around the world, have it better that Robert Vesco did, for, although it's true that Mr. Vesco's $200 million was made of a much more robust dollar than the 8 or 9 digits of dollars of their own salaries, and therefore represents a comparatively larger sum than what they'll ever get away with, still, they bear none of the burdensome bother of illegality borne away down the years with all his loot by Mr. Vesco.

Mr. Vesco was a pirate who made an enormously successful raid and got away with it for decades. The last sentence of the Times obit hints that in his last years Mr. Vesco's fortune was gone, but who knows? It would be irresponsible not to speculate on The Lost Hoard of Vesco. Perhaps it was stolen or squeezed from him while he was in prison, perhaps there's a Howard Hughesian will. Only time and the airport paperback racks will tell.

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