The perfect crime

An afternoon well spent in an office tailor made for intrigue

By Linda Davies

It was a dull day on the trading floor. Business was thin. The clients were like reticent fish. The atmosphere was brooding. Pasty faces tinged green by the flickering of hundreds of computer screens glowered at each other. The big swinging dicks prowled the floor, looking for sport.

I wandered through the maze of tightly packed desks to the machine for my tenth black coffee. Traders along my route entertained themselves by dissecting my outfit. Was it as good as yesterday’s? As flattering, as well tailored? I paraphrase, their language was rather more colourful.

I returned to the relative sanctuary of my desk where I sat, elbow to elbow with fellow salesmen and traders, all bored, all amusing themselves in their particular way: computer sex, the Racing Post, 0898 telephone numbers.

I retreated into day dreams. What, I wondered, was the biggest crime I could possibly commit, using the apparatus at my disposal?

My purpose was fictional. My mentality, good or bad, falls short of criminal. But trading floors can be corrupting places; huge pressures, huge money, huge scope and the glorious sense of alienation from any limitation which accompanies the “can do” ethos which permeates the City.

How easy to slip from the legal to the illegal trade, especially when the law is so patchy and the temptation so great.

Millions can be made almost invisibly, just numbers on a screen, a few telephone calls, a couple of squiggles on a piece of paper. Financial crime is the smoothest thing.

But how to commit it? I set to musing. I was alarmed by how easily the core idea came. It took just minutes.

The finance ministers and central bankers of G7 were meeting in Frankfurt. Perhaps they were going to decide to intervene in the foreign exchange markets to support or depress one of their member currencies. What if a foreign exchange trader knew in advance? What if one of the ministers tipped him off? It would be like knowing the winner of the Derby in advance.

And the stake? A top FX trader could take a position of half a billion dollars. Just a well timed word or two of inside information – “buy dollars” – and he could make 5 or 10 million in an afternoon.

And the beauty of it? No one would suspect. He takes huge positions in the markets every week. It’s his job; the perfect cover.

I sat back with a smile and lit a celebratory cigarette; I had discovered the perfect crime.

But do the perpetrators get away with it, or, as in all good parables, are they destroyed by hubris and greed?

It took me two years to write Nest of Vipers. In that time “Black Wednesday” showed the awesome power of the FX markets which destroyed a major strand of government economic policy, felled the Chancellor and abolished hopes of the medium term achievement of European Currency Union.

Black Wednesday also showed how billions of dollars can be made in days on the FX markets, legally. Imagine how much could be made illegally.

[Originally published in The Independent in their True Stories series, 9th June 1994]

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