Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bank of America and India's Multi-Billionaire Mobster

Today I woke up to the following headline and did a double take: BofA Board Adds Billionaire Ambani, Boosting Access to India.”  Mukesh Ambani?  THE Mukesh-corrupt-billionaire-who-barely-escaped-jail-on-insider-trading-charges-Ambani?  Wow.  BofA has really stretched on this one.

Mukesh's crib

Most Americans do not know the back story on Mukesh Ambani.  His family is known as the most powerful in India.  The press loves to "ooh and aah" about his recently completed Mumbai home, worth an estimated $1 billion, boasting 27 stories, equipped with 3 helipads (1 is never enough) and a parking garage for 160 vehicles.  His family business, a super-conglomerate empire called Reliance, was started by Ambani’s father in the 1960’s and covers the gamut as far industries go – biotechnology, infrastructure, solar power, financial services, retail, communications, blah blah blah. 
The dark side of the Ambani legacy is littered with government bribes, black-money malfeasance, and a family feud that combines the tomfoolery of the Kardashians, the Sheens, the Spellings, and the Hiltons altogether (talk about a reality show).  If you seek more on the topic of "Mukesh Ambani corruption" I am happy to google that for you (LINK).  In Anand Giridharas' recently released book entitled "India Calling," he writes that friends of Ambani think of him as a "nonviolent Don Corleone" who trades in the currency of "tip-offs and information".  Sounds like a perfect fit for the BofA Board of Directors, no?  Seriously, who makes these decisions?   
When I saw the headline, I immediately walked over to a handful of business students at Shanti Bhavan, to get “the Indian youth” perspective.  I prompted them with the following question:  what would you say if the biggest bank in the United States invited Mukesh Ambani to join their coveted Board of Directors?”  The response was...immediate laughter. One child yelled out “he is a criminal!”  Another chimed in “he paid hundreds of crore (1 crore = 10 million rupees = $220,000) to stay out of jail.”  They were shocked to hear that Bank of America (a firm I have shared many past experiences about) would even consider such a notion.
What ever happened to background checks and due diligence?  I guess when BofA is competing to finance those high margin Indian government infrastructure projects they will pull out all the stops.