Tuesday 16 July 2019

When life imitates fiction

So, at the moment I’m kind of hooked on binge watching the entire series of Breaking Bad. I know I’m late to the party, but work sometimes gets in the way of catching up on the best TV series that everyone is talking about.

For those of you who still don’t know, this is the story of a mild-mannered, rather brilliant, high school chemist teacher, Walt White, who is told he has lung cancer and only has months to live. His solution to providing for his family after he’s gone is to set up a meth lab “cooking” the addictive drug and selling it with the help of a former student, a two-bit drug peddler named Jesse Pinkman. In short, he morphs into a ruthless drug supplier and dealer, convincing himself that the end justifies the means.

The problem, of course, is how to actually launder the money so that it cannot traced. After all, how do you suddenly explain to your wife that you have thousands (and eventually millions) of unexplained cash at your disposal? In steps the rather sleazy lawyer everyone in town calls when they’re in trouble (‘Better call Saul’ became an instant catchphrase) who shows Walt and Jesse that there are perfectly (ahem) straightforward ways to make the money seem that it’s being earned legitimately.

I’m still on Season 3, but every time I watch an episode while checking on the latest local news developments in between, I’m struck how life always seems to imitate fiction. For example, there I was watching a certain episode which aired way back in 2010, and Jesse (who watches too many Discovery channel documentaries) freaks out because he thinks that their high-tech, sparkling new meth lab has been infected by Ebola, whereas Walt in speaking about “contamination”, is simply referring to the presence of an innocuous fly. Talk about an uncanny coincidence.

Not so uncanny are the recent stories about fraud, and businesses set up as fronts. The “meat importer” Ryan Schembri, who has now fled the country owing millions to many, is just the latest in a series of supposedly savvy businessmen who were obviously dealing in something other than “meat”. Maybe it’s about time that the income tax audit department (not to mention the banks) start taking a closer look at all these people who seem to have acquired vast amounts of wealth in a relatively short span of time. What has irked so many people, in fact, is that they are put through the grinder to obtain a normal house loan, and yet here is Schembri being granted huge sums, snap, just like that.

Then today I read about a Vince Etienne Vella, who was employed by a firm of bookmakers to keep their accounts, and who hit upon an ingenious plan. Rather than paying creditors, clients and suppliers, he simply transferred the funds to various people, including his own father, and used the money to, in his words “live the good life.” While his lifestyle did not seem to include drugs, it does seem he had a soft spot for acquiring various vehicles which he rather bizarrely (and stupidly) boasted about on his FB profile.

Wow, now why did I never think of that? Probably because, like most people, I am not a thief or fraudster, and I have a little thing called a conscience. But, it’s amazing what people can convince themselves to do when their only aim in life is to amass as much filthy lucre as possible. What I found odd about the Mr “good life” Vella story is that it took his company so long to figure out what was happening. He was employed between 2007 – 2009, and started fiddling with the accounts after he had been employed just a few months. The company director is quoted as saying that they only found out when suppliers started questioning why they were not being paid. That is, perhaps, part of the problem in Malta where suppliers are almost forced to wait even up to a year for bills to be settled because of a lack of cash flow. Everyone owes money to everyone else.

And that is why it sometimes takes so long for fraudsters to be caught and why debts pile up so much – by the time you have read in the papers that Mr X has done a runner, you are up the proverbial creek without a paddle, and you can kiss the money you are owed goodbye. Unless, of course, Mr X is dealing with real nasty pieces of work, in which case his creditors take “justice” into their own hands and he ends up blown to pieces, or shot at gunpoint.

You just have to wonder what is lying beneath the surface on this tiny island; because you cannot make this stuff up. In fact, sometimes it seems that it is fiction which is imitating life, and that is very depressing,














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