06 January 2008

Never Enough

I'm following up my post of Friday about Joe McGinniss and his new true-crime book, Never Enough.

One of the questions I'm left with here is: so what ever happened to the Bank of China deal? It's a loose end that a more careful author (even one without my job or obsessions) might have tied.

For McGinniss makes a good deal of fuss about it. The victim of the murder at the heart of the book, Rob Kissel, is a distressed-asset expert for Merrill Lynch, posted in Hong Kong.

Distressed assets are what the term suggests. Bonds from bankrupt corporations qualify, for example. Of course, such a bond might become a worthwhile asset over time, as the corporation is restructured. The bonds might be paid off, or might be transformed into equity, in the next incarnation of that corporation. In the immortal words of Kenny Rogers, "you gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."

So it was an important matter for Kissel that, in 2003, the Bank of China -- an institution, I am told, that has one of the most impressive skyscrapers in the Hong Kong skyline -- decided to fold in this game. It announced an auction of its portfolio of distressed assets.

How much to bid? That was the question for Kissell and his team at Merrill. His right hand man in putting the bid together was a fellow named David Noh.

On the very day that Kissel was to have taken part in a crucial conference call about this auction, his wife fed him the infamous drug-laced milkshake and did the rest of the dirty deed. She then hid the body in a rolled-up carpet, and started calling people, telling them that her husband was missing.

So for a short period, this was a missing-person's case. But David Noh was aware early on that Kissel didn't simply take off on a whim. He wouldn't have missed that conference call as the Bank of China deal was coming to a head unless something terrible had happened.

And so it goes. I'll spare you the melodrama, except to come back to the point with which I began. Why doesn't McGinniss tell us what happened to the B of C deal? Did Noh and the rest of the team at Merrill pull themselves together and proceed without him? Which institution ended up getting the B of C's distressed debts?

Nothing more. I'll see if I can contact McGinniss and ask.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.