Sleepless nights

Here’s an exchange that Carl Hiaasen might have rejected as being too bizarre for fiction.

From the American Congress, it’s the boss of collapsed bank Lehman Brothers, Richard Fuld, versus Democratic congressman Henry Waxman.

The chairman of the committee [Waxman] held up a chart suggesting that Fuld’s personal remuneration totalled $480m (£276m) over eight years, including payouts of $91m in 2001 and $89m in 2005.

‘Your company is now bankrupt and our country is in a state of crisis,’ said Waxman, a liberal from California. ‘You get to keep $480m. I have a very basic question: Is that fair?’

After a long pause, Fuld said the figure was exaggerated: ‘The majority of my compensation, sir, came in stock. The vast majority of the stock I got I still owned at the point of our [bankruptcy] filing.’

Waxman cut him off, saying that even if the figure was slightly lower, it was ‘unimaginable’ to much of the public. ‘Is that fair, for a CEO of a company that’s now bankrupt, to make that kind of money? It’s just unimaginable to so many people.’

‘I would say to you the $500m number is not accurate,’ said Fuld. ‘I’d say to you, although it’s still a large number, for the years you’re talking about here, my cash compensation was close to $60m, which you’ve indicated here, and I took out closer to $250m [in shares].’

Interrupting again, Waxman listed Fuld’s collection of property, including a $14m ocean-front villa in Florida and a home in an exclusive ski resort.

‘You and your wife have an art collection filled with million dollar paintings,’ Waxman said. ‘Your former president, Joe Gregory, used to travel to work in a helicopter.’

A pugnacious congressman with a bald head and military moustache, Waxman warmed to his theme: ‘You made all this money taking risks with other people’s money.’

‘When the company did well, we did well,’ Fuld said. ‘When the company did not do well, we didn’t do well.’

Waxman disagreed: ‘Mr Fuld, there seems to be a breakdown, because you did very well when the company was doing well and you did well when the company was not doing well. And now your shareholders who owned your company have nothing. They’ve been wiped out.’

Deadpan and emotionless, Fuld repeatedly frustrated congressmen by answering questions with lengthy, technical financial explanations.

Frustrated by his demeanour, a Republican congressman, John Mica, tried humour: ‘If you haven’t discovered your role, you’re the villain today. You’ve got to act like a villain.’

Fuld stared back wordlessly, without a shadow of a smile.

The Guardian has a video. Enjoy.

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