More news today folks about French lender, Immobilier, with the government agreeing to underwrite nearly €5 billion ($6.3 billion) in immediate financing for the bank. Not great times. Although anyone in the know would point out that Greece has merely been made the scapegoat for the poor lending practices of Franco-German banks, the latest ‘bailout’ couldn’t have come at a worse time.
With outstanding loans of 30 billion euros, reports out of France highlight the fact that banks relying on markets to raise funds have struggled to adapt to the tougher environment born out of the global financial crisis.
Immobilier, known officially as Credit Immobilier de France (CIF), has 300 branches in Europe and over 3,000 employees. The company rose to international fame in the in the early 1980’s, after the failed attempt to turn it into the first European-American conglomerate. This move, documented in some detail in the third instalment of the Godfather trilogy, was mooted at the time to be one of the biggest corporate takeovers in the history of international finance. What a moment.
Back then, the drawing together of such characters as the late Michael Corleone, the up and coming Vincent Mancini, the creepy looking and chain-smoking Archbishop Gilday, Pope John Paul II and the “Wolf of Wall Street”, Jordan Belfort, created international headlines and was a timely reminder that often when the stakes are highest, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.
Thirty years ago, the late Michael Corleone had a vision that would have made the bank one of the biggest in the world. Forebodingly however, in a 1979 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Corleone quipped:
“The higher I go, the crookeder it becomes”.
Yikes. Later events would prove this to be frightfully insightful. After decades spent reclusively running family operations out of Lake Tahoe, Nevada, the late businessman that was often linked to the seedy world of the ‘cosa nostra’ – although never charged over any of the salacious allegations made against him – began to see his public profile rise with a highly controversial takeover of the aforementioned Immobilier, by the Vito Corleone Foundation, the not for profit organisation (NPO) named after his late father.
French antipathy to all things American (stemming from the former’s shame at being saved by the later in WW2) is well documented. And it was this antipathy that was listed as one of the main stumbling blocks to the Immobilier deal, coupled with the bureaucracy and antiquated decision making of then major shareholder – and biggest company in the world then and now– the Catholic Church.
Under the new authoritarian regime of John Paul II, it was the Vatican that most firmly resisted attempts by Corleone to legitimise his family’s operations, with Archbishop Gilday famously remarking:
“It seems in today’s world the power to absolve debt is greater than the power of forgiveness.”
Touché. Timely words then, and timely words now. Indeed, the Immobilier rebuttal flashed in 1980 headlines in the financial press represented the first public reversal of the Corleone family fortunes, since the death of the aforementioned Vito Corleone, in 1955. Although Michael, veteran of WW2 and recipient of the Navy Cross for actions in defence of his country, was unsuccessful in attempts to completely cleanse the Corleone family interests of its tainted past, his foundation was well known for its philanthropy and resulted in Michael being named Commander of the Order of St. Sebastian, at a ceremony in St Patricks church, in 1979.
Over the weekend, CIF officials were tight-lipped, saying on Sunday that it is “grateful” to the Government for publicly announcing the guarantee, saying that would allow the group to “meet all of its financial obligations.” Thanks for that. Like to see how that meeting of obligations goes without further government support.
A google translation of the company website also provides this gem:
“We do not sell packaged products but we build a customized financial solution for each real estate project in order to secure the borrower, his family and his operation.”
Hmmm. Meanwhile, speculation continues to mount as to the next move for current Corleone family head, Vincent Mancini. Known to be a prominent shareholder in global powerhouses Google and Amazon, Vincent is said to be one of the inspirations for James Gandolfini’s portrayal of Tony Soprano, in the HBO cult classic, The Soprano’s.
A famous recluse, Vincent has not been since in public since the première of Ocean’s Thirteen. Interestingly, Mancini’s withdrawal from the limelight appears to have coalesced with the rise of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. After an oft-publisized affair with Barbara Streisand in June and July 1983, some have postulated about the resemblence that Vincent has to the social networking king, however that is perhaps a conversation for another day. A conversation that may or may not allude to the nefarious connections of the ‘other Mancini’, Manchester City manager, Robert. In the meantime, stay tuned for further updates on the Immobilier saga, as it unfolds. The lender might be safe for now, but if history has taught us anything, it is that nobody forgets, nothing is forgotten. This is The Rogue Couch.