The world's most complex and expensive bankruptcy trundles relentlessly into its 13th year. To most people, the scandal of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International belongs to a long-gone era when John Major was popular, we were fighting the first Gulf war and Sonic the Hedgehog was cool. But not to the army of accountants, lawyers and others still feeding off the corpse. The cost of the liquidation has reached $1.2bn worldwide. That is before the liquidators even begin to sue the regulator at the time, the Bank of England, for "misfeasance".
This sounds nasty and, indeed, is nasty. Misfeasance is far more serious than mere incompetence or negligence because it impugns the honesty of Bank employees. Which is why Threadneedle Street is preparing for the mother of all battles and has already spent or earmarked £45m for outside solicitors and QCs.
Taxpayers are bankrolling both sides of this battle, which begins to make Jarndyce v Jarndyce look quick and cheap. Central government funds the Bank, while council tax-payers are in effect underwriting the many local authorities that rashly deposited funds with BCCI and are now creditors.
To be fair, the liquidators have got back 75p in the pound, far more than was expected when BCCI went down. But one item in the costs schedule speaks volumes about the weird and wonderful world of company liquidation. The bill for "sundries" - which you and I may think of as petty cash for coffee and stamps - has now reached £9m.
I met Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate and former World Bank economist, the other day at Brown's Hotel in London. Stiglitz provoked fury in Washington last year with a sustained attack on the International Monetary Fund in his book Globalization and Its Discontents. I asked him about his criticism of Stan Fischer, the former IMF number two. Fischer made a seamless transition from the public sector to the vice-chairmanship of the world's biggest bank, Citigroup, where the former US treasury secretary Robert Rubin was chairman. Stiglitz, a former adviser to Bill Clinton, sparked off a wonderfully catty row when he wrote: "One could only ask, was Fischer being richly rewarded for having faithfully executed what he was told [by the US government] to do."
Sipping a cappuccino, Stiglitz tells me how the fracas distracted attention from the real issues he was trying to get across. The publishers have toned down his words in the new paperback edition, he assures me, and rifles though the pages to show me. A pause. He removes his specs to take a closer look. "Oh. No. They didn't change it, after all." He munches on a biscuit and looks distinctly pleased.
Harrumph! Am I alone in opposing the Olympics bid? Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, gushes that success would unleash the biggest wave of new building in London for a hundred years. I don't want the biggest wave of new building in London for a hundred years. I want the opposite. I'm tired of the dust, the noise, the disruption, the extra congestion. And I've already been waiting a decade for a sufficient cooling of the construction industry just to get the crumbling rear of my house repointed for less than the cost of an Olympic stadium.
Add the council tax surcharge, which Londoners will have to pay for 12 years, and the diversion of National Lottery funds, and the whole thing is deeply questionable, even if by some miracle it comes in under budget. It amounts to a hefty redistribution of income from ordinary Londoners and charities to three of the least deserving of causes I can think of: 1) athletes bloated with product endorsement fees, 2) property developers and 3) notoriously freeloading International Olympic Committee members.
The Amicus chief Derek Simpson hailed the shareholder revolt at GlaxoSmithKline as heralding "a new era of corporate accountability". I wish I were as optimistic. True, the defeat of the resolution approving boardroom pay was a first. But it looks unlikely to persuade other company directors to curb their excessive rewards. First, their contracts are already written and cannot be easily reversed. Second, the lesson of the past 15 years is that directors have thick hides. They don't much like the flak, but when toughing it out guarantees that perhaps the last 30 years of your life can be spent in gold-plated luxury, it's not a difficult choice. Meanwhile, Glaxo's appointment of the remuneration consultants Deloitte & Touche to advise on a new top pay scheme is not encouraging. Consultants are the problem, not the solution.
Patrick Hosking is deputy City editor of the London Evening Standard