Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Eamonn MCann: Was it fair to jail Shahra Marsh but let greedy bankers go free?

Nobody is immune from this banking crisis. Not Shahra Marsh. Not Mother Teresa.

Not me. Ms March is the French-Iranian woman jailed for six years at Southwark Crown Court in London eight days ago after pleading guilty to 20 charges of fraudulently obtaining £2m worth of antiques, artworks and other luxury items by issuing worthless cheques.

Judge James Wadsworth told her: "I think you showed very little remorse or shame. You indulged in premeditated and manipulative behaviour.”

The court heard she had won the confidence of major firms including Bonhams, Christie's and Sotheby's, so that they unhesitatingly believed that her finances were sound. But her real assets fell far short of the amounts she was splurging out.

What’s the difference between this and the behaviour of the bankers, other than that she was dealing in measly millions while they were issuing worthless pieces of paper in tens of billions?

Maybe she should have contacted the Treasury when exposure became unavoidable and invited the Government to make up the shortfall with taxpayers’ money? At any rate, if a selection of bankers isn’t to join her in the slammer, shouldn’t this misfortunate woman be released forthwith? Fair’s fair, after all. Or should be.

Then there’s Mother Teresa. It might be thought that she’d be well beyond the reach of the banksters’ maw, being dead. But that, in a way, is the point. Following her death in 1997, the Albanian nun was fast-tracked to the threshhold of saintdom by her great admirer, John Paul II, and beatified in 2003 on the basis of a reputed miracle. Indian woman Monica Besra had recovered from a stomach tumour after a locket with a picture of the nun had been rubbed on her body.

Mind you, Monica’s doctor, Ranjan Kumar Mustafi, insisted that the recovery had been down to medicine. "She had a medium-sized tumour in her lower abdomen caused by tuberculosis. The anti-tubercular drugs she was given eventually reduced the cystic mass and it disappeared after a year's treatment. All this talk of a miracle is just nonsense.”

But what would doctor’s know?

Anyway, Mother Teresa is now up for canonisation — a process which, I fear, could be diverted off course by the new focus on financial scandal in the US presidential debate. John McCain’s close association with con-artist Charles Keating is currently figuring in Obama attack ads.

In the 1980s, Keating, a devout Catholic and passionate ‘pro-lifer’, ran a saving and loans company which attracted funds from thousands of relatively poor people, many impressed by his claim to be motivated not by greed but by religious zeal. Many families were left penniless when it emerged that he had embezzled more than $250m of their money. McCain’s repeated interventions with federal investigators on Keating’s behalf aren’t playing well with Middle America in these days of meltdown and malice. But McCain wasn’t as close to Keating as Teresa. For her, the fact that the fraudster was vigorously involved in ‘pro-life’ campaigning outweighed all other factors. As well, he had deposited more than a million dollars of the stolen money into her bank account.

When the LA district attorney’s office asked her to give the money back to its rightful owners, she point-blank refused, quipping that the wad had now become “God’s money”.

After Keating’s conviction, Teresa wrote to Judge Ito (yes, the chap from the first OJ trial) begging him to go easy on her benefactor. She later sent Keating a crucifix blessed by John Paul himself to hang in the cell where he was serving 10 years.

Given that rather higher standards are commonly expected from saints than from US presidents, the question which now arises is this: if association with Keating renders McCain unworthy of election, surely the same consideration should make Teresa a no-no as far as canonisation is concerned? I leave that one with the Vatican.

And then there’s me. I am suffering something of a liquidity crisis myself at the moment as a result of the failure of Kheleyf's Silver to do the business in the 3.30 at Catterick on Tuesday. I had been assured by both tipsters in a certain morning newspaper that this animal was ‘sound’ and would have ‘plenty in reserve’ were he to come under pressure. In the event, Titus Andronicus hacked up. For all I know, my nag is still running.

At least, I was risking my own money, whereas the big-time tipsters in the global bookies were punting with other people’s dosh, all the time assuring us that the banks were sound and had more than adequate reserves to cover any contingency. Just four months ago, Alan Greenspan, ex-chairman of the Federal Reserve, the world’s most authoritative market tipster and apostle of deregulation, guaranteed that “the worst is over” and urged us all to continue merrily speculating with our savings.

In all the circumstances, I don’t think it inappropriate to expect Alastair Darling to make public money available to cover my losses.

I realise that this would bring the taxpayers’ exposure up to £50,000,000,020. But hey, desperate times, desperate measures.

A postal order would do the trick, Alastair. No cheques, eh? I am not a complete idiot.

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