gall and gumption

Thursday, April 02, 2009

For the Record

I knew people who thought Jamie Astaphan was a fantasist, a person who believed his own made-up stories; among these people the consensus was split oever whether he was completely evil or just not completely grown up. But I trusted his instincts and self-knowledge more than I trusted theirs. For instance, he was onto this particular scamminess in 2003. There were reinsurance companies in the offshore sector and Jamie thought they stunk. He wanted me to write something about it but you see he would get furious about things like this, and I'd get some sketchy details--a company name or an address--that I would sort of fish out of the torrent of cuss words, a torrent that usually concluded with the assurance that "You can figure it out." He vastly overrated my financial acumen and investigative resources. How do you find anything out, on an island of 10,000 people? A place where everybody knows you are the journalist and the people you would ask are in the business of keeping secrets?

As for me, I looked as far into it as I could. I read up on reinsurance and it seemed to sort of make sense except I couldn't figure out where the money was to come from if anything happened to trigger this chain of payouts. If A buys a home insurance policy from B, B gets insurance from C against having to pay A after the hurricane, C gets insurance from D against paying C, to infinity. Where would it end, logically speaking? Who would ultimately pay if a hurricane blew down A's house? Well, now we know. I had the name and address of one company in the reinsurance business. I saw simply a locked office with nobody in it. Nothing unusual about that either. So it wasn't that I didn't believe him; I simply had no way to corroborate what he told me, and I was out of my depth. But I believe he was right.


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