In The Gold Man From the East, Nobu Su’s new expose of the global banking industry, the Taiwanese shipping tycoon lifts the lid on what he believes are the real causes of the 2008 financial crash and reveals how one sinking British bank, in particular, allegedly used his billions to stay afloat.
By Lucy Bryson
When the US banking giant Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy on September 15th 2008, exactly 10 years ago today, shockwaves were felt across the global financial markets. It was a major jolt in what would become the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. While stock markets plunged, the cost of credit soared, with credit spreads blowing out to record levels. Unemployment and homelessness rates spiked, equity values plummeted and banks around the world sought billion-dollar bailouts from their respective governments.
What caused one of the world’s largest financial services firms to go under has been the source of debate, controversy and conspiracy theories for years. Most analysts blame its demise on over-borrowing, a lack of liquidity, and a drop in US interest rates following the 9/11 attacks.
Nobu Su, however, has a different – far more sinister – version of events which involved, and allegedly almost destroyed, his multi-billion-dollar shipping empire.
The man at the helm of shipping firm Today Makes Tomorrow (TMT) may not be a household name in the UK but his family business has been making waves in the global transportation industry since 1958. Su himself may be familiar to British film buffs as the flamboyant and charismatic protagonist in this year’s acclaimed documentary, The Outsider. The film, which brings Su’s version of events to the big screen, was released with the tagline ‘The Biggest Financial Scandal You’ve Never Heard Of’. An apt tagline, indeed.
And while The Outsider stops short of pointing the finger of blame unequivocally at any one person, company or institution, Su’s book The Gold Man From the East (available in the UK from today) has no such hesitations. In it, Su names and shames the banks and their “banksters” – the robbing bankers – who he claims fraudulently used billions of dollars of his own money to stave off their own financial ruin and who allegedly tried, unsuccessfully, to cripple TMT to cover their tracks.
“After nine years of litigation and law suits, during which I’ve gained access to thousands of private, undisclosed documents from the biggest banks in the UK and US and the brokers who worked with them, there’s now absolutely no doubt in my mind that TMT’s accounts were hijacked during the financial crisis of 2007–2008, to provide liquidity (money) in what was one of the greatest scams in financial history,” he writes.
“When the banks ran out of cash, I became their unlimited ATM machine, connected through confidential money routes between British and European banks and through JPMorgan Chase to US banks. Manipulating TMT’s accounts was like taking candy from a baby. The banks sussed us out and realized we were perfect for their plans. We came skipping into their yard, full of trust and eager to be accepted, with our pockets full of gold—and they mugged us! In the ten years since 2008 those same financial terrorists believe they’ve gotten away with the perfect crime.”
In the book’s scene-setting prologue, Su beautifully describes an alleged meeting in 2007 at the London offices of a major British bank that would change his life:
“I’m informed of three ladies in the waiting room with no appointment. I agree to see them. They’re smiling and elegantly dressed, and I assume they’re from another of the private bankers who regularly visit us in Taipei. They’ve brought gifts of playing cards and golf balls and mah-jong sets, all bearing the [bank’s] logo. I smile, is it Christmas? It is for them.”
Little was Su to know that this 30-minute meeting, in which he was asked to sign a ‘few documents’, would be the beginning of his undoing. “It’s quick. It’s sharp. I’m suckered!…That 30-minute meeting begins my ten-year nightmare,” he writes.
Su goes on to recount his own growing sense of unease as millions of dollars in ‘forgotten’ charges and so-called ‘margin calls’ are suddenly – and, of course, allegedly – demanded, and when meetings raise more questions than they answer.
You’d be forgiven for asking why Su, a major player in the global shipping industry, was so green among the gills. It’s a question he thankfully answers himself: “I’m a very successful man. Nobu Su is a name to be reckoned with in the global shipping business, and in financial circles in general, especially in the East. I use private jets, stay in the best hotels, always get the best table in the best restaurants. In short, I’m a flamboyant, jet-setting, man-about-town.
“I’m also very naïve when it comes to the chicanery of Western bankers. We’re privately-owned, exist outside Western regulatory oversights and, as an Asian company, we have no “friends” to protect us from the vultures in the City of London and on Wall Street. The man in the wig and blue suit knows I’m not a member of the “Old Boy’s Network” that controls the financial sector and he realizes that, while I’m an expert in the shipping industry, I’m inexperienced when it comes to the dirty dealings of high finance. I’m stepping into the jungle of investment banking and the predators are starting to circle—but I can’t hear their growls of greed.”
The book recounts, in some great depth, how his company’s accounts were allegedly plundered and accessed without his consent to variously fund acquisitions and even to secure funding from the US Federal Reserve. In short, the banks which were entrusted with his money allegedly used his considerable wealth to put a sticking plaster on their own, gaping financial wounds.
“It sounds outlandish, doesn’t it?,” Su admits. “But don’t forget, we’re talking about banks that have been prosecuted for rigging Libor (the benchmark lending rate), for mis-selling financial products, for money laundering, fraud, embezzlement, and front-running. We’re discussing a culture of people who pride themselves on making money, not on their morality. These financial behemoths are so big that, when they shift their weight, they create earthquakes.”
Few, I’m sure, would argue with that sentiment.
Tracing the causes of the 2008 crisis back to the 1980s and the deregulation of the banking sector – “Banks became accountable to nobody but themselves” – Su paints a shocking picture of an industry which he claims worked together to create a creature that was “too big to fail”.
When the sub-prime mortgage crisis struck in 2007, he explains, the industry had plans in place to protect itself. “Instead of taking the hit, they decided to crash the whole system—not just the financial system, but the whole system!,” Su says.
When Su starts asking difficult questions, the banks behind the alleged fraud – who he names in the book – allegedly set out to destroy the evidence…and TMT itself.
Although he is at pains to point out his limitations as an author (he implores readers to ‘bear with me’ as he sets out his version of events), the Taiwanese mogul writes beautifully and goes to great lengths to explain his position. To his credit, Su also manages to inject a sense of humour – and possibly even of the absurd – into the events he describes.
Perhaps more importantly, you don’t need to be a seasoned investor or a financial analyst to become utterly engrossed in this book, which is clearly written with laymen in mind. For those who, like me, don’t even know their FFAs from their FSAs, and who confuse CDS’ with CDOs, a glossary of terms will no doubt prove useful.
It might sound like a hard ask to sympathise with a mogul who, despite having allegedly lost a lot of his fortune to the “banksters”, remains an incredibly wealthy individual. But his sense of injustice extends to the way the banks have reportedly exploited the ‘man on the street’: he makes detailed reference to the banks’ so-called ‘Dash for Cash’ and in particular the notorious Andrew Gibbs case, in which a Norwich architect was stung with fees and charges to the extent that it cost him his business.
“They destroyed my company, the combined efforts of generations of my family, to save their own skins. It wasn’t enough to demand a blood sacrifice from the taxpayer that they’re still trying to pay after a decade of austerity, but they had to go after unaware and naïve clients like me as well,” he explains.
And let’s not forget that it takes balls of steel to step up and confront the financial superpowers. Su is evidently unafraid to root out the truth – a truth he describes as a “…criminal conspiracy that created the most devastating recession the world has ever suffered” – at all costs. Indeed, the book suggests that he is now planning to take legal action against those who allegedly wronged him. But unlike the average Joe, he has one major ace up his sleeve – millions of disposal dollars at his disposal.
“They used me to fix their system and then they tried to break me. Unfortunately, I’m not one to sit still or keep quiet,” he warns.
“They seem to have an inherent character trait that allows them to conduct business, conscience-free, without any consideration or respect for the law. It’s often easier to plead guilty, pay a fine, and avoid criminal charges rather than spend a single day in court. If banks aren’t made to pay dearly for fraudulent activities like lending to themselves, then there’s nothing to stop them from doing it again, and again, and again.”
Su deliberately leaves some questions unanswered – to be addressed in future volumes. Whatever your personal and political standpoint, this is a fascinating account from an insider at the heart of the financial crisis.
According to Su, The Gold Man From the East critically examines the unreported events and insider opinions about the 2008 financial crash. But it does in fact do far more than that. Su and his book have set out to do what most thought impossible: bring banksters to account.
“A lot of my friends in the industry can’t quite understand why I’m taking the failure of TMT so personally,” Su writes.
“They don’t understand why I won’t cease my tireless research and lawsuits and just accept defeat. They want me to move on. They believe Today Makes Tomorrow was just like the other companies that went to the wall during the crash and that I can’t accept my own failure.”
The Gold Man From the East by Nobu Su is available from today on Nobu.store. The book is available to read entirely free of charge until October 3 2018 to mark the 10-year anniversary of RBS’ UK government bailout.
Exclusive Q&A with Nobu Su
Nobu Su made billions through his global shipping concern, Today Makes Tomorrow, before his company was allegedly left high and dry by western banks. In this exclusive Q&A, we sit down with one of the world’s most successful tycoons to discuss the events that led to today’s publication of his shocking new expose, The Gold Man From the East in which he literally brings those allegedly accountable to book.
Q: You state that it takes courage and dedication to bring “banksters” (the term used by Nobu to describe robbing bankers) to book. But did you have any doubts in ‘naming and shaming’ those individuals and major businesses that are allegedly accountable?
A: Banksters have long believed that they are above the law. Given the seriousness of what happened, I felt I had no choice but to expose the system and those within it.
Q: You went one further than most disgruntled bank customers by writing a book AND creating a feature-length (and acclaimed) documentary, The Outsider. Why did you make the documentary and what do you think of the finished film?
A: The Outsider is fascinating film and one that I’m very proud of. Unlike most films or documentaries, which are carefully scripted, the director (Thomas Meadmore) and I wanted to do something a bit different and more fluid. So we just started filming and the documentary made itself. It’s an out-of-the-box way of doing things and an out-of-the-box film.
Q: What most motivated you to write The Gold Man From the East – was there one decisive factor?
A: I wanted to do what no-one had ever done before and delve into the murky waters of the financial industry. Specifically, I set out to investigate what had happened to my money but also to confirm my suspicions that TMT was part of a bigger conspiracy.
Q: You say that the public must hold the banks accountable for their actions. How can the everyman, without disposal income, do this?
A: Anyone who has been mistreated at the hands of a financial institution should have the confidence to make their complaint heard. Similarly, those who work for financial institutions and have been exposed to such behaviour or practices should also come forward, anonymously or otherwise. So long as whistleblowers are protected and the media is free, banks are accountable.
Q: Who is/are your intended audience(s) for the book, and is there one message that you hope readers will take away from it?
A: I purposefully wrote The Gold Man From the East in layman’s terms so that the everyman could understand it. That’s not to say that some of the events and terminology aren’t complex – they are – but I’ve got to some great lengths to make it readable to everyone. I would imagine that the book will appeal equally to the consumer as it will the heads of global banks.
I’d like everyone who reads it to start asking themselves questions. Question everything! And, perhaps more importantly, know your rights and don’t be afraid of complaining – it keeps the banksters on their toes.
Q: How have the events of 2008 changed you as a person and as a businessman? You mention that it alerted you to the ‘inequalities and evils’ of the world?
A: Until these events unravelled, I was to some extent rather naive about banking practices. My company turned over billions of dollars, but I was seldom involved in the everyday administration of that cash. That all changed after the events I’ve described in my book.
It is in my view incredibly unfair that the banks received taxpayers’ money to bail them out – totalling some USD$90trillion – when that money could (and should) have been spent on building homes, helping the poor and improving vital institutions such as the NHS in Britain.
Q: The Gold Man From the East is the first of several volumes – when will the next be published, and what themes will they address?
A: The next volume is called Dynasty Escape and it will be available on October 2018, the day of Chinese National holidays. There will be a Chinese and English version. It’s a book that delves back into world economics and which looks at the bigger picture from both west and east perspectives.
Q: How did the banking sector react to the film and how will it react to the book?
A: Like all large institutions, bank employees are not all bad. Unfortunately, however, it only takes one or two bad apples – especially at the top of the tree – to bring an organisation into disrepute. As such, I believe the ordinary financial employee will enjoy the book and agree with my conclusions. The CEOs and major decision makers, however, are likely to take a more defensive position.
Q: How has the crisis affected Eastern investors in the long run? Are investors more aware of the ‘chicanery’ of big Western banks now?
A: Trust in banks everywhere – in the east and west – has diminished significantly over the last decade to the point where investors are now more financially aware than they’ve ever been!