If I could have my time again, I’d listen to that tip-off about BCCI

My Week:

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Every year in the first week of September, I try to put in an appearance at the Cambridge International Symposium on Economic Crime.

Within the confines of Jesus College are gathered many of the world’s leading law enforcement officers, senior investigators and lawmakers. For a week they compare notes on white-collar crimes on their patch, new scams, and legal loopholes.

As with any such gathering, the best, most fruitful moments are in the private sessions, away from the main area. As a journalist, winning the trust of the delegates – some of the most security-minded people on the planet – has not been easy. But I’m lucky in that the organiser Barry Rider once lectured me in law and I’ve been attending for decades.

One time I was talking to an official from the US Department of Justice. He was a specialist in corrupt banks. Go on, I said to him, tell me, which is the most crooked bank in the world? He looked around, leaned forward so only I could hear, and whispered “Bank of Credit and Commerce International”. Lazy so and so that I am, I did absolutely nothing about it. A few months later BCCI came crashing down amid claims of rampant illegality.

The jury is still out

This year, among the after-dinner speakers was Sir Paul Judge, who made a fortune from Premier Brands and went on to become director-general of the Conservative Party and found the Judge Business School in Cambridge. The last occasion I saw Paul properly was when I interviewed him about his Jury Team political movement – set up in 2009 to back independent candidates in the Westminster and European elections.

Those standing on the Jury Team ticket were selected by the public voting via text messages. They were not affiliated to any party and if successful would not take a party whip. They would uphold the three principles of democracy, accountability and transparency.

I remember spending a morning with him at the apartment he shares overlooking the Thames with his wife Lady Barbara Thomas, chair emeritus of the UK Atomic Energy Authority and chair of the Pension Protection Fund. One room had been turned over to a party HQ, complete with desks, terminals and staff enthusiastically manning the phones. Alas, it did not fly: in the 2009 European elections, he fielded 59 candidates, none of whom were anywhere near successful, gaining just 0.5 per cent of the vote. The Jury Team had a candidate in the Glasgow North East by-election in 2009; he received 258 votes and came eighth. The 2010 general election ended similarly in failure.

Paul, though, is not to be dissuaded from seeking high office. He’s a Sheriff of the City of London, within a scarlet robe’s length of gaining the top post of Lord Mayor. He’s not without controversy, however. He was a director of the mining company ENRC, and sued it for libel after it was claimed he’d been leaking damaging information about the company to the media. He maintained he was tricked in a sting operation orchestrated by ENRC.

The episode may have explained the forceful nature of his speech at Cambridge. Almost thumping the lectern at times, he presented a formidable list of recent instances where individuals, companies and organisations had been defrauded and duped, and called for more international co-operation and tougher action.

What’s in a name?

Over dinner, the chairman of the Cambridge Symposium, Saul Froomkin, former attorney-general of Bermuda, handed me his card. He is now director of a Bermuda law firm called ISIS Law … He saw my reaction and admitted he was used to it. It could change the moniker, but the firm is well established. We agreed, though, that somewhere in the depths of the CIA there must be someone who thinks they’re on to something ... only to be disappointed.

Serious money gravitates to China

Later in the week, I get chatting to a couple of very senior investment bankers. Among the issues that concern them are the UK leaving the EU. It would be terrible, they assert – far worse than Scottish independence. But the latter may spark the former, I say, as Ukip is pushing a  similar argument to the Scottish nationalists – that we would be better on our own. Like Alex Salmond and his cohorts, Nigel Farage and his team are keen to wrap everything up in the emotion of the national flag. What form that flag would take, though, is far from clear.

During the discussion, the bankers mention India and how they’re not doing as well there as in China. The former tends to focus on the individual, whereas China is dominated by powerful institutions. In other words, given that make their money from advising large national and international organisations, China is a much better market for them. Communism and its love of institutions provides an ideal hunting-ground for these arch-capitalists.