Bilderberg 2015: where criminals mingle with ministers........
This third check took so long, it was so late, and my patience was so thin, that eventually I took my shirt and trousers off in front of the officers. “I’m having a shower,” I explained, and went and had one. When I’d finished, I came out in my towel, thinking they might be gone. They weren’t. “Put your clothes on please and come to your car.” This party wasn’t getting any better.
Out at my car I couldn’t be bothered to get into the whole ‘probable cause’ thing so I flung open the doors and with as much good cheer as I could muster, said: “Help yourself”. They did. While one set of police searched my car with their torches, another lot clustered round me and asked me questions: “Where do you live? What are you doing here?” I’m a journalist and I live in a police state. What about you?
In my trouser pocket I found a “Medienhandbuch” from the G7, which I was given in my goodie bag when I was accredited there. By the light of a police searchlight, which was trained on me like I was trying to escape Stalag 17, I read out passages to my guards to pass the time. “Experienced staff from the Federal Government will be happy to help you with your work …” An officer interrupted. “Your address please.” It was on my driving licence in his hand. This was getting silly.
A little while later, bored and a bit cold, I decided to point out to the officers that while they were treating a journalist like a criminal, there were actual criminals about to arrive at the hotel they were guarding. Convicted criminals. Such as disgraced former CIA boss, David Petraeus, who’s just been handed a $100,000 (£64,000) fine and two years’ probation for leaking classified information.
Petraeus now works for the vulturous private equity firm KKR, run by Henry Kravis, who does arguably Bilderberg’s best impression of Gordon Gecko out of Wall Street. Which he cleverly combines with a pretty good impression of an actual gecko.
“What is a gecko?” asked one of my captors. “I’ll tell you what a gecko is if you tell me where the press accreditation centre is. What, there isn’t one? That’s a shame, because it would be really useful. You wouldn’t have to harass me in the middle of the night like this. I could just show you my press pass.” The policeman scribbled on his notebook. “Great, are you getting this down?” No. He was writing down the number on my driving licence. Again.
“Can I go now?” Another no. So I continued my list of criminals. I moved on to someone closer to home: René Benko, the Austrian real estate baron, who had a conviction for bribery upheld recently by the supreme court. Which didn’t stop him making the cut for this year’s conference. “You know Benko?” The cop nodded. It wasn’t easy to see in the glare of the searchlight, but he looked a little ashamed.
I reassured him that Benko’s crimes were in the very best traditions of Bilderberg. Don’t forget, the first chairman of the group, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, was the biggest fraudster of the lot; he was caught back in the 70s organising bribes from Lockheed and Northrop for the same arms contract. It was such a scandal that in 1976, Bilderberg had to skip a year out of sheer embarrassment.
Maybe they should think about giving this year a miss as well. I wouldn’t mind. I’m not having any fun here. “Do you mind turning off that searchlight? I won’t run away, I promise.” A stern head shook. The policemen were careful to keep officers on all sides of me. Like they’ve been trained to when faced with a slightly damp journalist wielding a G7 media handbook.
I decided to reward their vigilance with a chat about HSBC. The chairman of the troubled banking giant, Douglas Flint, is a regular attendee at Bilderberg, and he’s heading here again this year, along with a member of the bank’s board of directors, Rona Fairhead. Perhaps most tellingly, Flint is finding room in his Mercedes for the bank’s busiest employee: its chief legal officer, Stuart Levey.
A Guardian editorial this week branded HSBC “a bank beyond shame” after it announced plans to cut 8,000 jobs in the UK, while at the same time threatening to shift its headquarters to Hong Kong. And having just been forced to pay £28m in fines to Swiss regulators investigating money-laundering claims. The big question, of course, is how will the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, respond to all this? Easy – he’ll go along to a luxury Austrian hotel and hole up with three senior members of HSBC in private. For three days.
High up on this year’s conference agenda is “current economic issues”, and without a doubt, one of the biggest economic issues for Osborne at the moment is the future and finances of Europe’s largest bank. Luckily, the chancellor will have plenty of time at Bilderberg to chat all this through through with Flint, Levey and Fairhead. And the senior Swiss financial affairs official, Pierre Maudet, a member of the Geneva state council in charge of the department of security and the economy. It’s all so incredibly convenient.
Yet it doesn’t sit easily with Osborne’s intention, which he trumpeted five years ago, shortly after taking office, “to implement the most radical transparency agenda the country has ever seen”. What he’s doing this week in Bavaria is about as transparent as an alp.
I’d got about as far as the 8,000 job cuts when I was finally allowed to go free. An utterly ridiculous 35-minute ID check. I would have been more furious but I was starting to get into the swing of my lecture. The searchlight was lowered and they waved me off into the night. “But wait, I haven’t even got as far as Henry Kissinger being questioned for war crimes …”
NWN:How many know the full name of the HSBC Bank ? It stands for the Hong Kong and Shangai banking corporation. Formed during the time (1865) when Hong Kong was a major centre of corruption for the moving of opium and the Opium wars with China. It hasn't changed much has it ?