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This review is from: A Price to Pay: The Inside Story of the NatWest Three (Paperback)
David Bermingham and his two fellow NatWest execs, Giles Derby and Gary Mulgrew, may well have sailed close to the wind with some of the complex structures that they helped conjure up for the fraud-ridden US energy giant Enron. But as Bermingham explains in this book they were to some extent only obeying orders. And they had no idea that Enron was a fraudulent enterprise at the time. They had been asked to maximize their division's revenues, as NatWest believed that bigging up its numbers might help it resist the competing and unwelcome takeover offers from Bank of Scotland and Royal Bank of Scotland.
What appals me about this story, told with remarkable candour and breezy good humour (albeit laced with the odd use of cutting irony) by Bermingham, is the shabby way in which he and his two colleagues were treated by the UK authorities, and to a lesser extent by RBS itself, which acquired NatWest in early 2000.
Tony Blair and his entire New Labour cabinet come across as spineless. Much of the story revolves around the Extradition Act 2003, which revealed Blair & Co were only too happy to subjugate human rights and justice for UK citizens on the altar of a "special relationship" with the United States, even though this relationship was one-sided and illusory.
The act, which came into force in January 2004, made it possible for them to be extradited to the United States to stand trial for wire fraud and other alleged offences on what seems to have been the flimsiest of evidence. Bermingham describes how the "NatWest Three" launched a powerful media and online campaign against the act, and how one of the few British politicians who they persuaded to support them in this endeavour was the Conservative MP and former journalist Boris Johnson.
Two British institutions - the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Services Authority - come across as, to varying degrees, unscrupulous, perfidious and perhaps even corrupt. On page 195 Bermingham describes how Robert Wardle, the ex-director of the SFO, claimed his agency had had no involvement in their case, even through clear evidence to the contrary later surfaced.
The US justice system comes across no better, and perhaps even worse. In a review of A Price to Pay published in the Spectator, Conrad Black (a man who clearly has no axe to grind!!) described it as follows: "US criminal justice is based on the almost completely corrupt manipulation of the plea bargain, in which suspects, or alleged suspects, are interviewed and advised that they can have immunity in exchange for miraculous revenances of memory that incriminate the prime targets -- failing which, however flimsy or nonexistent the evidence, they too will be charged."
As a financial journalist myself, I found the section covering the interventions of the Daily Telegraph's business editor Jeff Randall and his journalistic colleagues particularly interesting. Bermingham reports that, after Randall published a couple of pieces questioning RBS's motives in not doing more to assist the 'NatWest Three', or not having the decency to arraign them for defrauding its NatWest arm (the main allegation against them) through the UK courts, he (Randall) received a call from someone very senior at RBS "begging me to call off the dogs".
Altogether A Price to Pay provides a fascinating account into where the worlds of finance, law, criminal justice, and the media collide on both sides of the Atlantic, and it is written in an accessible, narrative style. One of my main criticisms is the lack of an index.