There are a couple of financial scandals going on in America (just a couple?!) that have piqued my interest these days. I'm talking about American-born Angelo Mozilo, former head of the largest home lending Company, Countrywide Financial, and Italian Raffaelo Follieri, better known as Anne Hathaway’s ex.
Now, I’m not implying that the Italians have cornered the market on graft and corruption – just one look at the litany of Wall Street scandals, Enron, Worldcom, lobbyist money, sex scandals, Watergate, Ponzy schemes; even the Kennedy’s got their money and status thumbing their noses at Prohibition. Taken together, they add credence to the Italian proverb, tutto il mondo è un paese (the whole world is a village).
One must consider, however, that Italy’s Parmalat did outdo them all in terms of sheer chutzpah, amounts involved and levels of ‘creative accounting’ so intricate it would make Daedulus’ Labryinth look easier to get out of (btw, he was Sicilian).
But one thing’s for sure: where these two guys messed up is that, if you’re caught in America, you risk getting the book thrown at you (just ask Martha Stewart). Generally speaking, there aren’t many politicos lined up to save your skin (unless you’re Ken Lay, Mark Rich or Scooter Libby), or no judge who's going to turn a blind eye. Follieri’s life sentence would set a nice example for more than a few white collars thinking they can get away with it.
In Italy, these guys may not have gotten busted in the first place (it would all depend on who they had in their pocket). Or, if they did, they may have gotten off lightly, or, the trial winds on so long, they get off from sheer boredom. Or, like (the likely outcome of) Parmalat or even the Tangentopoli folks -- they get a slap on the wrist and are told not to do so again. Their families get to keep the change hidden away in outposts like the Cayman islands or Lichtenstein.
America seems to have the market on Corporate scandals, only because they get caught. This marked difference with Italy was aptly put to me one day by a sociologist: While in America, we have corrupt individuals -- in Italy, it is the entire system which is corrupt.
I'll keep you posted.