The on-field drama in Antigua couldn’t hope to match the exposure of Stanford’s rotten regime.
By Nick Cohen The Observer, Sunday 22 February 2009
As Freddie, KP, Straussy and the rest of the boys left Antigua, they had much to ponder. Not only did they have to grasp how they had thrown away a Test-winning position a village team could have held on to, but they also faced the perplexing question of why the English cricket authorities allowed them to become a spiv’s plaything.
The Stanford story is fast moving, but as of yesterday the facts of the case were that in June last year Sir Allen landed on the sacred turf of Lord’s in a black helicopter bearing a crateful of dollars. The bills turned out to be replicas rather than the real McCoy, but the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) did not smell a rat. Sir Allen then appeared to make good on his promise to inject tens of millions into the game. He invited the England team to a high-stakes tournament in Antigua, a country he seemed to own.
During a warm-up match, he was caught on camera warming up the players’ wives and girlfriends by hugging them and bouncing them on his knee. Understandably, their husbands and boyfriends decided that Stanford was not the sort of businessman they wanted to work for and some were prepared to make that point to him very forcibly indeed. The ECB saw nothing amiss, however, and told the players to calm down.
Meanwhile, the Antigua-based Stanford International Bank was selling £8bn worth of “certificates of deposit” which promised investors extraordinarily generous returns. The old maxim in finance is that if an investment seems too good to be true then it probably is. Not one of the alleged men of the world on the ECB management board remembered this wise advice as they rushed to salute Sir Allen as a saviour of the game. It was only when the American Securities and Exchange Commission accused him last week of engaging in a “massive ongoing fraud” of “shocking magnitude” that the ECB realised that maybe, just maybe, Sir Allen might not play with a straight bat.
I don’t know how much post-colonial literature Test players read. But if they want to understand how they were caught up in Sir Allen’s schemes, they could make a start with VS Naipaul’s sceptical essays in The Overcrowded Barracoon. Naipaul had toured the West Indies in the late Sixties as they were considering breaking away from the British Empire and becoming independent nations. He expressed his doubts most forcibly about Anguilla, but they applied equally to nearby Antigua, St Kitts and all the other statelets of the Caribbean.
These were tiny colonies “set adrift, part of the jetsam of an empire,” he wrote. How were they going to make a living? The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London replied with a disgraceful answer even the jaundiced Naipaul did not expect. The fragments of empire, those little specks of land with apparently no viable future, would survive by turning themselves into tax havens.
Justifiably or not, colonial guilt still haunts the British. But we are nowhere near guilty enough about the immoral policy of successive governments of encouraging existing British territories and former colonies to become centres of money laundering.
In a bill he presented to the US Congress last year, Barack Obama identified 34 tax havens for the wealthy. As I have mentioned before, if you follow Obama’s classification, you find by my reckoning that Britain controls nine of them – Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Guernsey/Sark/Alderney, the Isle of Man, Jersey and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
If you take the next step and go through the rest you find that another 15 are former British colonies – Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, the Cook Islands, Cyprus, Dominica, Grenada, Hong Kong, Malta, Nauru, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and Singapore.
Cyprus, Malta and Singapore became tax havens of their own accord and the Cook Islands are more New Zealand’s responsibility than Britain’s. But especially in the Caribbean, Britain consciously transformed colonial and post-colonial territories into receivers of stolen goods.
Because of what we have done, the profits from the drugs trade are recycled – as was to be expected, the US press reported last week that blood-soaked Mexican cartels were laundering their profits in Antigua – and, of course, working- and middle-class citizens are forced to make up the taxes the rich divert to the havens. British policy also means, however, that when desperate men need cash in a hurry, the odds are that they will turn to tycoons like Sir Allen who have built their fortunes free from the interference of regulators and tax inspectors.
“Desperate” accurately describes the ECB’s managers, because of another twist in post-colonial history I suspect that Straussy and his team-mates grasp better than I do: the emergence of India as the centre of word cricket.
As the scandal grew, I spoke to Ramachandra Guha, whose history of Indian cricket, A Corner of a Foreign Field, is now available in the UK. To my surprise, he was not enjoying a laugh at the ECB’s expense. He deplored the high-paying Indian Twenty20 cricket competitions – “The purist in me finds them vulgar.” As for some Indian cricket promoters, he thought: “They are hardly squeaky clean, to put it mildly.”
But he understood how the mass market for cricket in India and, in particular, its appeal to the new middle class that advertisers want to woo, is flooding the Indian game with money and luring the world’s best players to the subcontinent.
To Gula’s mind, it made sense for the ECB to try to hang on to the Test squad by offering them the alternative temptation of a piece of the Stanford action. I respected his opinion, but thought he was being too kind. The rise of a democratic India is one of the few optimistic developments in global politics.
In sport as in foreign policy, we would do well to stick with the better descendants of our empire while steering clear of, and making amends for, the gang of little hooligans we let loose on the world.