No One Would Listen

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 April, 2010, 12:00am

No One Would Listen
by Harry Markopolos
Wiley HK$240

It's a wonder Harry Markopolos doesn't have a permanently dislocated shoulder - he spends almost 300 pages of this book patting himself on the back.

Mind you, if anyone's entitled to do that, he is. Markopolos is the analyst who painstakingly studied a hero of American and European investors, and dared to question him. He was mocked and, worse still, ignored, until the truth about the biggest financial fraud in history finally emerged.

In the 1960s the Great Train Robbery set the benchmark for a generation of criminals and now Bernie Madoff has set the pace for white-collar crime in the new millennium with his multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. No One Would Listen sets out the hunt for Madoff by Markopolos, who has only been recognised in the past year as the man who diagnosed Madoff's operation as a Ponzi scheme.

Initially, Markopolos took an interest in Madoff after a colleague challenged him to match Madoff's success for Rampart, an asset management firm Markopolos worked for. He studied Madoff's performance and by reverse-engineering his work and poring over trading receipts, he came to a startling discovery: Madoff was a fraud, and he could prove it.

After talking to hundreds of financial professionals he realised Madoff was ripping off customers on an even bigger scale than he had dreamed of. At a time when US$2 billion marked a respectably sized hedge fund, Madoff appeared to have funnelled tens of billions into his scheme. Some of the money came from wealthy US investors. Some of it came from old money in Europe, but some of the money came, Markopolos believed, from organised crime.

At this point, he realised that Madoff's investors, particularly organised criminals, might not thank him for exposing Madoff and bringing his house of cards toppling down. So he took precautions. He increased security at his house, bought a gun, told the police in his hometown of a potential threat and tried to vary his movements to make it harder for a hit man. But he kept on badgering officials and industry professionals about Madoff.

Markopolos thought the file he had put together conclusively made his point: it showed Madoff must be faking his trading receipts, must be lying about his strategy, and was running a pyramid scheme. So he presented his findings to the Securities and Exchange Commission - who made it clear it would not pursue the matter. He sent his findings to Wall Street Journal star reporter John Wilke, who kept stringing him along.

Of course, the book has a happy ending: Madoff was found out, and Markopolos was vindicated.

Markopolos' implicit message in this book is simple: be cynical, be wary and suspect the worst, and maybe you'll emerge at the end of your working life with a pension.