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Business Analysis & Features

The business on: Irving Picard, Trustee, Bernard Madoff Investment Securities

The man they call 'The Liquidator'?

Overlooking the total lack of similarity between an Arnold Schwarzenegger-style creation and a mild-mannered bankruptcy lawyer in his late sixties – yes, that's the one.

What is his mission?

After the world discovered that Bernard Madoff's $65bn investment business was a giant Ponzi scheme, Irving Picard was appointed as bankruptcy trustee, charged with recovering whatever money he could and handing it out to victims.

How is he doing?

So far, he has recovered about $1.5bn from the sale of Madoff's personal assets, settlements with Madoff's business associates, and clawbacks from some investors who were lucky enough to have taken a lot of money out of their Madoff accounts.

But $1.5bn out of $65bn is... not a lot.

The $65bn was entirely fictitious, the sum total of more than 14,000 Madoff investors' accounts, all with made-up returns fabricated over many decades. According to a court filing over the weekend, Mr Picard squeezed out only $849,000 more in the six months to 30 September.

What has been the reaction?

From some quarters, anger. Mr Picard spent $26.9m in legal fees (including his own hourly rate) over the same period, for a paltry return.

And Madoff victims are already angry with the trustee, right?

A lot of them are. Mr Picard decided to disregard the $65bn figure and compensate people only on the basis of their real loss, the difference between what they put in and what they took out. Long-term investors might have taken out plenty over the years, and they are getting nothing back, even if they thought they had a nest egg left for their retirement.

Harsh, but fair.

That was the court's conclusion. In fact, Mr Picard has won numerous legal challenges to his methodology and his fees. On second thoughts about that nickname, maybe you do need to be made of steel to do this job.