The Economist - 01 December 2001

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After regulatory scrutiny and several court challenges, the rescue package for Executive Life was approved in August The following month the insurer was duly taken over. This document included detailed memoranda on the transaction, prepared ostensibly for the new boss of Altus, Claude-Eric Paquin. The memoranda spelled out clearly the fronting scheme.

We have a commitment to buy back the shares and the right to nominate others to hold them.

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What happened next showed for whom the documents had really been prepared. Almost immediately, the page package was faxed to Mr Peyrelevade. A former manager says that Mr Peyrelevade had asked each of the bank's units for a briefing on all matters of importance. Less than a month into his new job, Mr Peyrelevade doubtless had an in-tray that was overflowing with evidence of past scandals, many of which had originated years earlier.

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But the ink was still wet on this one. And although the deal was hatched on the watch of Mr Haberer, his predecessor, the document makes clear that it would continue to unfold while Mr Peyrelevade was in charge. Mr Peyrelevade was no naif when it came to the world of banking. However, it is possible to reconstruct part of what happened. First, the decision to fax the document conveyed a sense of urgency, but also ensured there was a record that the pages were both sent and received. The document was then read by one Dominique Bazy.

Mr Bazy was hand-picked to accompany his patron to the troubled bank. Among his responsibilities, he chaired the supervisory board of Altus Finance. Mr Bazy ordered two copies of the document to be made. Messrs Bazy and Gille have declined to comment on whether they discussed the document's contents with Mr Peyrelevade. There is no doubt, however, that after December 10th , Mr Bazy should have been fully aware that Altus Finance was in breach of American law.

It is hard to believe that he did not assiduously follow up this information, or that he would not have thought it sufficiently important to inform his boss.

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Logically, however, the assertion that Mr Bazy never informed his boss about Executive Life must be the basis of Mr Peyrelevade's explanation for his bank's failure to alert American authorities to serious breaches of regulations. Mr Peyrelevade refuses to say whether he was in his office on December 10th when the briefing document arrived, and claims that thereafter he had no knowledge of its contents until after December In June , for example, he invited Mr Pinault to join the bank's board.

That reciprocated his own role in the private company through which Mr Pinault controls his empire. Unfortunately for the bank—and for Mr Peyrelevade—in mid somebody whose identity remains a mystery approached lawyers acting for the California Insurance Commission. This triggered the lawsuit in California that has yet to come to court. The timing could not have been worse for Mr Peyrelevade.

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  • After years of battling to turn the bank round, he had just won agreement from the government that it would be privatised in a stockmarket flotation. Yet The Economist has established that several former senior managers with detailed knowledge of the affair were not interviewed by the bank. According to this official document, the blame for the Executive Life affair lay with former managers of Altus and the group. The document stated that only one current manager had become aware of the facts after the event, and that no other miscreants were expected to be identified.

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    This individual was not named in the prospectus. However, a court case in Paris in October last year revealed him to be Denis Lion, a manager who had been temporarily demoted from his position in the bank's internal audit department in May A mere two days later, the page prospectus was approved by the stock exchange. This suggests that Mr Lion had been deliberately singled out as a scapegoat and given no time to defend himself.

    Mr Peyrelevade certainly took a close personal interest in Mr Lion's fate. According to the bank's French lawyers, the chairman himself wrote a letter in July explaining to Mr Lion why he had been demoted from his job. The only reason the bank advanced was that it was acting on the advice of the Federal Reserve. The bank's strategy of blaming one current employee for the Executive Life affair is scarcely credible. It looks suspiciously like a cover-up for other senior managers who had many opportunities to learn about the deal. There is no way of knowing whether the Department of Justice and bank regulators in America will accept the assertion that Mr Peyrelevade had no knowledge of anything untoward in connection with Executive Life.

    But it is difficult to avoid the damning conclusion that he did know, or should have known, the full details of the affair. Either way, his position looks untenable. Join them. Subscribe to The Economist today. Media Audio edition Economist Films Podcasts.

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    New to The Economist? Sign up now Activate your digital subscription Manage your subscription Renew your subscription. Topics up icon. Three years of recession have led to an unemployment rate of nearly 17 percent, adding misery to a labor force already hard hit by deep economic adjustment in the early s and rising joblessness after Mexico's currency crisis.

    Although the worst of the crisis hit in July, when government-bond yields tripled, bond-rating services are still predicting a 30 percent chance of default.

    The resulting liquidity crisis has slammed the door on Argentines trying to secure new loans and prompted a new wave of desperation among pension-fund managers and investors with deposits in the country's banks. Meanwhile, the political situation is chaotic. Voters are increasingly angry over rising inequality, falling job prospects, and failed adjustments. Adding spice to the mix are tales of spectacular corruption. Most dramatic has been the case of former President Carlos Menem, now under house arrest for his role in.

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