If ever a documentary could convince you to stash your money under the mattress, The China Hustle is it.
Writer and director Jed Rothstein’s film, a recent addition to Netflix, exposes a globe-straddling economic con Washington continues to ignore. Financial catastrophe, affecting everything from international trade to personal savings accounts, is imminent, or so the narrative goes.
Rothstein and his investigators argue that, while the world was still spluttering through the fallout from the 2008 financial meltdown, “Wall Street had already figured out a new way to package garbage as gold”. This time, the lies on which the “enormous fraud” was founded “were legal [and] this time the crime was based in China”.
While the West was staring in trepidation down the barrel of economic depression, China was hosting the only vibrant market – but foreigners were excluded. That prompted investment banks such as Roth Capital and Rodman & Renshaw to list hundreds of small Chinese firms directly on United States stock exchanges, earning themselves big money. Analysts would then recommend the colossally overvalued stocks as sound investments, with company bosses in China growing rich on the proceeds.
The process by which these companies were introduced to the US market was opaque. No one asked questions until businessman Carson Block began unpicking the web of deceit in 2010, having considered investing in a company called Orient Paper. Doing his own due diligence, and making the effort to travel east, Block found a dilapidated factory containing broken machinery and mounds of rotting cardboard. The business, says Rothstein, was “a total fraud”, adding that this was “the first time anyone had poked a hole in the Chinese miracle”.
The listing of the Chinese companies in the US was achieved by “reverse merger”, whereby the incoming company would occupy the shell of a non-operational firm that existing in name only, thus circumventing auditing requirements. And hey presto! The company was in, no regulatory red flags waved.
Greed for a piece of the action no doubt motivated many individuals, as well as corporate investors, and ordinary folks were stripped of their life savings, with untold billions of dollars of pension and retirement funds lost on “crappy” companies’ worthless stock.
Former investment-adviser-turned-whistle-blower Dan David, who features heavily in The China Hustle, has made it his mission, through short selling their stock, to bring down China’s fraudulent enterprises, but outside a small circle of converts, few are listening – including US Congress.
Rothstein explains complicated financial terms simply and earns extra credit for his off-camera style of questioning, most notably retired general Wesley Clark, a former Nato commander and an ex-chairman of Rodman & Renshaw; a man who probably never ran from an artillery barrage. Here, under interrogation, he runs from Rothstein’s studio.
While Chinese chief executives and bankers, lawyers and brokers in the US continue to make monstrous profits, the cosy arrangement is unsustainable, the film suggests. As another talking head warns, coming next is inevitable “major financial crisis. So stay tuned”.
Lucifer returns for a fourth season … on Netflix
Hell hath no fury like the spurned fans of devilishly addictive, Satan-as-superstar series Lucifer, starring smouldering Briton Tom Ellis, an erstwhile soap-opera stalwart. Then again, it’s one small step from EastEnders to purgatory.
Those social-media-crusading fans resurrected the show after it was unexpectedly cancelled by Fox at the close of series three. So, miraculously, Lucifer Morningstar (Ellis), on the run from Hades, will rise again early next year, but on Netflix this time. Now, then, is the time to binge up on those first three runs, and follow the suavest fallen-angel-cum-detective on his holidays out of hell, in Los Angeles … where else?