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O GOLPE BILIONARIO DE IVAR KREUGER – Uma das maiores fraudes financeiras do Seculo XX foi a imensa piramide de negocios do financista sueco Ivar Kreuger, o rei do Fosforo. Kreuger criou um imperio a partir da Swedish Match (no Brsil Fiat Lux) e passou a ter monopolios de fosforo em muitos paises. Comprava o monopolio fazendo um grande emprestimo ao governo do Pais que lhe dava a concessão. Chegou a controlar grande numero de empresas suecas, nomes mundiais. Criou a International Match Corporation e controlava bancos, minerações, industrias de todos os ramos.
Seus negocios tinham extensão mundial nos quatro continentes. Kreuger era um homem misterioso e mitologico, conversava com Presidentes de paises de igual a igual, tinha residencias em Estocolmo, Paris e Nova York, muitos iates, altissimo transito social e nas mais altas cupulas financeiras da época. Nunca se casou e não deixou herdeiros.
A crise de 29 e a grande Depressão lhe tirou o chão dos pés e ele desabou em 1932, cometendo suicidio no seu luxuoso apartamento na Avenue Foch em Paris. Seus negocios eram intrincadissimos, com uma complexidade proposital que só ele entendia.
Kreuger tornou-se um simbolo de fraude financeira, a quebra do seu imperio foi um choque para as finanças mundiais porque repentina, Kreuger conseguiu manter a aparencia de normalidade até o ultimo minuto. Hoje há uma tese que acredita que ele foi assassinado, contrariamente ao inquerito que concluiu pelo suicidio. Sua vida gerou varias biografias, tenho uma que comprei há mais de 50 anos THE INCREDIBLE IVAR KREUGER mas depois surgiram outras melhores.
Do The Wall Street Journal
A Fortune Up in Smoke
Long before Bernard Madoff, a financial titan was revealed as a crook.
By EDWARD CHANCELLOR
Boom times are always accompanied by fraud. As the Victorian journalist Walter Bagehot put it: “All people are most credulous when they are most happy; and when money has been made . . . there is a happy opportunity for ingenious mendacity.” Bernard Madoff has now joined the ranks of great financial villains whose illicit activities have been exposed by market downturns. Among this select group none is more intriguing than Ivar Kreuger, the Swedish entrepreneur known as the Match King.
Kreuger’s suicide in the spring of 1932 led to the uncovering of the Depression era’s leading financial scandal. Soon after, accountants looking into his holding company, Kreuger & Toll, found a black hole in the balance sheet that was bigger than Sweden’s national debt. The failure of Kreuger’s U.S. investment vehicle, International Match, brought down the venerable Boston bank Lee Higginson & Co. And Kreuger’s downfall provided the impetus for the securities regulation of the New Deal.
Frank Partnoy now tells the story of Kreuger’s rise and calamitous fall in an eminently readable and scholarly biography, “The Match King.” Unlike Mr. Madoff, who pursued a relatively low-profile career on Wall Street, Kreuger was, as Mr. Partnoy makes clear, one of the most famous businessmen of his age. By 1930, his companies were the sole or dominant manufacturers of matches — a household staple at the time — in 33 countries, accounting for three-quarters of global production. Kreuger controlled more than 200 businesses engaged in banking, construction, mining, timber and communications. He was also a leading lender to European governments, which granted him domestic match monopolies in exchange.
Yet behind the scenes, Kreuger manipulated accounts to report regular profit increases that did not exist. These “profits” were just enough to cover the extremely large dividends that Kreuger’s companies distributed to shareholders. He siphoned cash from his public companies into secret companies, which were domiciled in Liechtenstein and elsewhere. Kreuger was highly secretive. He once told a journalist that he owed his success to three factors: “One is silence; the second is silence; while the third is still more silence.”
His business practices couldn’t continue indefinitely. Yet far from slowing down after the October 1929 crash, Kreuger became even more ambitious. He arranged to lend money to Germany in exchange for a match monopoly there, and he sought another deal with the Italians. But it became harder to raise money. In his desperate scramble for cash, Kreuger resorted to forging Italian treasury bills that he then used as collateral for his loans. By 1931, the Match King was suffering from bouts of mania and depression. He avoided a showdown with his bankers by putting an end to his life in his Paris apartment in March 1932 by shooting himself in the heart with a pistol.
History has tended to treat Kreuger as an archetypal swindler. Yet Mr. Partnoy reveals a more complex story. Kreuger had a brilliant mind and a prodigious memory. He spoke five languages fluently. In public, he always exercised poise and self control. He “gave the impression of not having a nerve in his physical make-up,” according to a contemporary. His steely reserve would serve him well. Starting from humble beginnings, he turned Kreuger & Toll into one of the world’s leading construction firms. As a young engineer working in the U.S. at a time when the great trusts, such as U.S. Steel, were being put together by Pierpont Morgan, Kreuger wrote to his parents: “I hate the American outlook, but I shall bring American methods back home.” In later years, he used hardball tactics and efficient business methods to eliminate competitors and consolidate the match industry.
At the heart of most great financial scandals, such as the South Sea bubble of the 18th century or the Madoff affair, lies the criminal behavior of individuals who have fleeced others to enrich themselves. A few scandals arise from the failure of overreaching ambition, and Kreuger’s business empire belongs to this second category. Kreuger, after all, was once pronounced by the economist J.M. Keynes as “perhaps the greatest constructive business intelligence of his age.”
The Match King didn’t personally steal from his companies. Even paying dividends with borrowed money wasn’t necessarily fraudulent. “Ivar believed,” writes Mr. Partnoy, “that if he kept raising cash to pay earlier debts his business would grow fast enough to survive, even if they continued to pay high dividends. This belief wasn’t unreasonable.” In fact, Kreuger’s shareholders received very large dividends for many years and even recovered a substantial share of their initial investment from bankruptcy.
Nevertheless, the tale of the Match King holds lessons for our own day and for future generations. First, as Bagehot observed, loose business practices will always prevail during boom times. During such periods, the gatekeepers of the financial system — whether bankers, professional investors, accountants, rating agencies or regulators — should be extra vigilant. They are often just the opposite.
Kreuger was allowed to go so far because his bankers, Lee Higginson & Co., were more concerned about fees and the desire to best their arch rival, J.P. Morgan, than about the return of their money. As one partner said after the collapse: “I suddenly knew we had all been idiots.” Amen. Kreuger’s auditors, Ernst & Ernst, were also busy collecting fees for consulting and tax advice and didn’t look too closely into the Match King’s opaque dealings.
Regulation can do little to prevent this state of affairs from repeating itself. Regulatory agencies were created to protect the world against future Ivar Kreugers. Yet the same agencies failed to heed warnings about Bernard Madoff. Policymakers are now calling for new rules that, they say, will prevent future crises. The tragic, timely story of “The Match King” suggests that this is wishful thinking.
Mr. Chancellor is the author of “Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation.”
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