Bob Diamond, one of the most controversial bankers to emerge from the financial crisis, but the man ousted as boss of Barclays after a direct intervention by the Bank of England, is making a dramatic return to the City with the launch of a new Africa banking business.
The financier is attempting to raise $250m (£153m) by floating a fund on the London Stock Exchange within the next two weeks – he plans to use the proceeds to buy a stake in an African bank with a presence in several countries across the continent.
As part of the deal, Diamond is teaming up with an African entrepreneur called Ashish Thakkar, the 32-year-old chief executive of Mara Group, a conglomerate with "technology,
manufacturing, real estate and agriculture" interests in 19 African countries. It is anticipated that both men will sit on the new public company's board.
Just when you might have thought that this spiv had taken a one-way ticket back to Hoboken or wherever and that we had seen the back of him, up he pops, trying to float a new venture in the City, – an adventure which will not be without its inconveniences – as even Diamond's friends admit his reputation is lower in Britain than almost anywhere else in the world.
But there is nothing the regulators can do to stop him.
You see, when the spineless bunch of flabby, weasel-worded, financial regulators had dealings with Diamond last time, he was under the cosh for some of the more emotive events of the financial crisis, frequently being criticised about his pay and his aggressive attitude to business – and this was even before the scandal over LIBOR, forced him out of Barclays. In 2010 he was memorably dubbed the "unacceptable face of banking" after it emerged that he had received cash and share awards that could net him £63m.
His demise came in July last year, in the face of increasing pressure from politicians and regulators following the interest rate manipulation scandal. Marcus Agius, Barclays' then chairman, and Sir Michael Rake, the bank's most senior non-executive director, were summoned to see the then Bank of England governor Lord King, where they were told that "Bob Diamond no longer enjoyed the support of his regulators".
I bet those words caused Diamond to lose sleep at nights!
This is precisely the sort of regulatory approach that the City has traditionally preferred to adopt, when things became difficult.
The City fathers and those who regulate the Square Mile know that trying to undertake meaningful and rigorous regulatory intervention against the practitioners inside the City, would be a very difficult, not to say, impossible task.
That is because the vast majority of them has been engaged in some dirty dealings somewhere along the track, and would not be able to stand in a witness box as a witness to truth if the historical spotlight was suddenly beamed on them.
No, rather than engage in conduct which would mean that they had to take decisions which would bar Mr Flashboy from doing business in the City ever again, they demurred. They knew that by standing up to him, and showing him the door, he would respond immediately with legal action demanding Judicial Review, a costly, and very damaging process, from which few of the grandees would emerge with any dignity, and more importantly, it would shine a spotlight on the City of London and its dubious practices.
Better to get the Governor of the Bank of England to trot out the old chestnut about 'losing the confidence of his regulator'.
In one way and a couple of hundred years ago, this might have been a clever way of making sure that 'The Diamond Geezer' never did business again in the City, because in those halcyon days, when the Square Mile was governed by the 'height of the Governor of the Bank of England's eyebrows', to go against the dictat of the Governor was sure and certain commercial immolation.
Once it was known that the individual concerned had been named and shamed by the Establishment, no-one else would do business with him for fear of being tarnished themselves.
The process was borrowed from and carried out elsewhere in the Square Mile, Lloyds, The Stock Exchange, but it was a way of making sure that a 'bounder' never came back to do business in the market again.
But these are different times and different days, and Bob Diamond isn't the kind of man to let a little historical tradition get in his way. Why would he care about some arcane British concept such as the confidence of his regulators? Barclays could invite him to leave, because at the end of the day, the Governor of the Bank of England was their lead regulator, but no doubt the exit cheque handed to Diamond had a good few zeros on it to cushion the fall.
Diamond Bob is an Anglo-American, a man from New York, and as his name suggests, he has a hard edge. He doesn't do 'tradition', he doesn't do 'Governor's eyebrows', he's either in the game or he's out, and if you want to keep him out, you have to put a stake through his heart in his coffin!
Whereas an Englishman faced with Diamond's dilemma would have possibly taken a sabbatical, retired from commercial life and gone into good works, charitable organisational support, become a friend of Covent Garden, worn shabby tweeds and grown roses, Diamond took time out to catch his breath, and then came back, harder and tougher than before.
You see, there is literally nothing to touch him or stop him from setting up his stall all over again.
He hasn't been convicted of anything. Any alleged crimes that were committed by the bank under his control of Barclays, any market manipulation, any insider dealing, any money laundering, well they have been allowed to quietly disappear! No prosecutions have been brought, no investigations have been mounted. and nothing untoward recorded.
Even the regulatory investigations have only resulted in fines being levied on the institution.
There have been no regulatory adverse findings, no fitness and properness tests applied, no questions as to his suitability to have control of a public company determined!
No, Bob Diamond walked away without any recorded stain on his character. The man once dubbed In 2010 as "the unacceptable face" of banking by the then business secretary Lord Mandelson, citing Diamond's high level of pay (quoted as £63 million) and lack of humility, was able to come back into the heart of the City Establishment and start up a business which by any standards is going to carry a high degree of risk!
So, if the British financial and political establishment harboured any thoughts they were getting rid of Diamond by pontificating about him 'among the chaps' and murmuring about 'lack of confidence', well they were wrong, and now, the monster is back and running amok!
Diamond is raising $250 million (£153 million) for Atlas Mara, a cash shell, which is aiming to buy a controlling stake in an African financial services firm, and has already secured significant institutional backing, according to the Financial Times. Diamond is partnering with Ashish Thakkar, the founder of African conglomerate Mara Group, to launch the venture.
After leaving Barclays last July, Diamond set up New York-based merchant bank Atlas Merchant Capital and the financier is understood to be keen to tap into the opportunities in Africa.
Both Atlas Merchant Capital and Mara, which has a presence in 19 African countries across a number of sectors, will take significant stakes in the shell company with the remainder of the cash coming from institutional investors.
Diamond's choice of London to float his first major banking venture since leaving the City may surprise many, even though it is thought to reflect London's supposedly better ties with Africa, compared with Wall Street. One London-based banking source said: "It reflects the knowledge of Africa here, plus the time zone".
I say 'may surprise others', but it doesn't surprise me. You see, it also reflects the fact that a lot of bankers and City wide-boys will pile in to do business with Diamond all over again because he was known as a money magnet, and that's all these parasites care about.
Diamond will come back on a roll, a lot of spivs will queue up to invest money with him, and before you know it, there will be another regulatory concern sticking up above the financial waterline.
And the City, the regulators and the financial establishment have only themselves to blame.
What went on during the wild and wacky times at Barclays Capital was a classic example of the unacceptable face of capitalism. Barclays became a leitmotif for dodgy dealings and dirty deals. Just review their list of fines and other punishments dished out for their criminogenic behaviour during this era! A good friend of mine who was a senior anti-money laundering compliance officer at Barcap, left voluntarily because, as he put it to me, '...he wanted to sleep at nights and not get arrested...'
The regulators have demonstrated a significant degree of naiveté and a lack of basic moral fibre in the way they have dealt with Bob Diamond.
They should have made him a target and lined him up in their sights with the sole view of bringing him down, hard. They should have called a Council of War, brought in the SFO, (although their present record is pretty awful), and the Fraud Squad, and they should have seen what evidence they could find to bring alleged criminal charges against him. For myself, I would have thought that the Companies Acts might have been a fruitful hunting ground.
They needed to do this because they had to have convictions or at least findings of 'not being fit and proper' if they wanted to keep Diamond out of the market, and they failed in their duties.
Yet again, the regulators are proved to have failed to face up to criminal wrong-doing in the Square Mile, and yet again they will pay the price, in terms of an even more feeble reputation, but the British public will pay the price in terms of more reputational damage to our markets in the eyes of other countries, notably the Americans.
Diamond isn't doing this latest stunt because he needs the money! He's doing it because running businesses like this is the way he keeps the score.
His presence back in the London market proves yet again what I have said consistently. The City and those who manage her affairs dictate to the British Government the way things are going to be played, and the Government, cravenly bows its acquiescence, while holding out its begging bowl!
May I refer you to the website ." http://uti.is/2013/12/why-are-bankers-investigated-in-iceland-and-not-so-much-elsewhere/ where you can read Sigrún Davíðsdóttir's Icelog in which she poses the questions surrounding the issue of prosecuting banksters. The following comment by a gentleman called Tony Shearer encapsulates the issues very neatly.
"...Why is it that Iceland has taken action and the UK authorities have not? We know that in the UK the Serious Fraud Office has a catastrophic record, but it seems clear that the political will simply does not exist to make these prosecutions.
The UK banks and the 4 big accounting firms have effectively corrupted the politicians, regulators, and civil service. They have so placed their partners and former partners into the system, and their level of lobbying, secondments, and work that they do for these people is so great that they have undue influence. It seems to me that, as a result, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the UK Prime Minister as well as the heads of the UK regulatory bodies and the civil servants regularly make the wrong decisions.
We will continue to have scandals involving the UK banks until such time as the senior politicians and senior civil servants clear out from the system those people in the banks and major accounting firms who have the wrong legal and moral attitudes.
The Chancellor, supported by the Prime Minster, has hung a large sign over the City of London to say that we are open to business for crooks and those with low morals. Iceland has hung out a sign to say the opposite. By the actions of the Icelanders and the inactions of the UK, the undesirables will avoid Iceland and chose London..."