gall and gumption

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Voyage's End

Robert Vesco's long strange trip has ended. His was just a name that I had heard, associated with things that I was a lot less curious about then than I am now. Long after he had dropped from the attention of the American public he was still plying the waters of the Caribbean in his yacht, looking for somewhere to land. He ended up in Cuba, but it took him a while to get there.

Vesco is still wanted in the United States on charges of looting US$224 million from investors in a Swiss-based mutual stock fund.

He also was indicted for allegedly contributing US$200,000 (euro130,000) to Nixon's 1972 campaign to try to head off a probe by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Two Nixon Cabinet members were later tried and acquitted.

Vesco renounced his American citizenship and traveled around the Caribbean and Central America in a yacht and various private planes - including a custom Boeing 707 equipped with a sauna.

He settled in Costa Rica, but was kicked out after a new president took office there in 1978.

Vesco moved to the Bahamas, but fled in 1981 aboard his US$1.3 million (euro840,000) yacht just before Bahamian authorities issued orders to deport him. In the United States, prosecutors accused him of plotting to pay a kickback to Billy Carter, brother of President Jimmy Carter, to win U.S. permission for Libya to buy C-130 military planes.

Vesco surfaced on the small Caribbean isle of Antigua in 1982 with a plan to buy half of Barbuda, Antigua's small sister island, and establish a principality called the Sovereign Order of New Aragon....

Having failed to purchase Barbuda, Vesco tried to purchase a big piece of another small Caribbean island. It is not mentioned in any of the stories I have read. But his yacht showed up off the coast of this island. The man who could buy half of Barbuda could certainly have bought some of the island of which I speak. People knew whose yacht it was. There was, it seems, some chance that he might actually be able to put the deal through. It appears that local feeling was not entirely against it. There was so much money involved, and all you had to do was let the man stay there and sell him a lot of land.

The island was not yet independent; it was still a associated state of Britain, which was a pretty nominal relationship, one step away from full independence. The British government was only responsible for the foreign affairs any more, and this little island didn't really have any foreigh affairs in 1982. It had a small colony of expats. They seethed for as long as the Vesco yacht was moored offshore. At last, one of them made a call to a very high place in the UK. This was a person whose calls to very high places got through. Very shortly thereafter, Vesco was made to understand that he would not find a home there. By then he was just about out of options. I think he must have gone to Cuba after that. There wasn't anywhere else likely for him to go, after that failure. It was more than twenty years later that the person who made the call confided the story to me. He was still horrified at the recollection of Vesco's scheme and all it would have meant.

The person who told me the story is dead now. Vesco is dead as well. That's why I'm telling it to you, so it doesn't completely get lost.


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