“City of Thieves” is a tale of one man against the system. The story is told from the viewpoint of a fresh, young outsider who stumbles almost by accident into a high powered banking job. He works for the world’s biggest money making machine, a US investment banking giant called Saracen Laing. When he starts questioning how they do business, things get a bit rough. A dead body is found … and it belongs to his friend …
The context for “City of Thieves”
Over the last decade, Wall Street and the City of London have been hit by a series of financial scandals. Yet few white collar criminals have been prosecuted. Here are just some of the stories that made the headlines in recent years:
2000: The internet bubble, created by over-inflated analyst expectations, finally burst, causing pensioners and savers to lose billions of dollars in telecoms, technology and internet stocks
2001: Enron, MCI WorldCom and Arthur Anderson all went bankrupt on the back of executive fraud
2002: New York’s Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer, fined the top ten US investment banks $1.4 billion for deliberately pursuing unethical working practices in their research divisions. He was later discredited by a prostitution scandal
2004: The FBI unearthed a billion dollar foreign exchange scandal involving staff at six leading global investment banks
2005: Martha Stewart, the world’s first woman billionaire, was convicted of insider-trading and sent to jail
2006: Trades unions complained that private equity bankers on multi-million dollar packages ‘paid less tax than their cleaning ladies’
2007: The Bank of England presided over the first run on a British bank (Northern Rock) since 1866, and the credit crunch kicked off
2008: Bear Stearns, a top tier US investment bank, went bankrupt. Later some of the greatest names in global banking – Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch – simply disappeared as credit losses mounted there too. Other household names like AIG, Citibank and Lloyds TSB were part-nationalised.
2009: Bernie Madoff is sentenced to 150 years in jail for conning ordinary investors out of $50 billion
2010: The Basel III Committee tries to impose tighter capital rules on banks but the banks lobby hard against it.
2011: Western governments hasten further austerity measures in the wake of a second banking crisis brought on by Greece’s insolvency crisis. A second taxpayer bailout of bankers on the cards. Anti-capitalist protesters demonstrate on the streets of Athens, New York, London, Madrid and Paris.
2012: Bob Diamond forced to resign as CEO of Barclays Bank in the wake of a £290 million fine received by the bank for attempting to manipulate LIBOR – the interest rate that underpins financial contracts worth an estimated $300 trillion worldwide. Separately, Standard Chartered and HSBC set aside millions to pay fines in connection with multiple breaches of money laundering regulations.
2013: The Salz report severely criticises the warped pay levels and entitlement culture at Barclays Bank before, during and after the 2007 financial crisis. Also, Sir James Crosby, Andy Hornby and Lord Stevenson face ban on working in the financial services sector for their role in the collapse of HBOS.
2014: The FBI launches an investigation into high frequency trading, just a day after the release of Michael Lewis’s book, ‘Flash Boys’. The FBI’s probe centres around the allegation that high frequency traders at the big investment banks and some of their hedge fund clients have rigged the market by front-running orders placed by investors.
2015: Global regulators fine the largest banks – including Citi, JP Morgan, Barclays and RBS – over $5 billion following an international foreign exchange rate-rigging probe in which UBS escapes scrutiny by turning whistle blower.
2016: Wells Fargo is fined $185 million for illegal sales practices that includes opening over 2 million fake accounts.
2017: Moodys is fined $864 million for publishing glowing ratings for securities that crashed in the 2007/8 credit crunch. Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse also receive multi-million dollar fines.