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Jabez Spencer Balfour was one of Britain’s earliest self-made millionaire businessmen. His fortune was derived from a complicated, inter-connected group of property companies that operated a large-scale, long-running Ponzi scheme. In November 1892, in the post-Baring Crisis downturn, the Liberator Building Society, Balfour’s principal property vehicle, failed leaving thousands of small savers penniless. Balfour went on the run, but was eventually apprehended in Argentina. Convicted of fraud in November 1895, he was sentenced to 14 years penal servitude. Upon release from prison in 1906, his memoirs were serialised in the press.
(Adapted from: Roberts, Richard: The Financial Times: Scandals and Debacles. Visit our Contextual Essays section for the full essay).
Although the Financial Times did not often endorse political candidates, it was noticeable in its support for Barack Obama (1961-) in his campaign that culminated in his election as President of the United States of America in 2009. Throughout 2008 in particular, they covered his campaign for the Democratic nomination against Hilary Clinton (1947-), where he was positioned as the candidate that “the Democrats must choose”. His nomination victory in Oregon was hailed a step forward, with the Financial Times echoing the claim that Obama would be a “once in a lifetime leader”. This isn’t to say that the Financial Times was entirely pro-Obama: they did also have contributors who were not so enamoured with the Presidential candidate, and questioned whether he could live up to the hype, and what the hype was really based on.
In 1931 the chairman of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, Lord Kylsant (1863-1937), and a partner in Price Waterhouse, a leading City accountancy firm, were controversially charged with publishing a false prospectus with intent to deceive investors. The prospectus issued by the company in 1928 to raise new funds gave the impression that profits were generated by trading rather than by transfers from reserves. Kylsant was found guilty, and the case had a major impact on the way companies were audited and the reporting of financial information. (Adapted from: Roberts, Richard: The Financial Times: Scandals and Debacles. Visit our Contextual Essays section for the full essay).
Czech-born Robert Maxwell (1923-1991) came to Britain as a refugee. By the end of the 1980s the Maxwell empire, comprising more than 400 companies, was experiencing acute financial difficulties and was only kept afloat by shifting funds around his maze of inter-locking private companies, misappropriating pensioners’ funds, and relentless deal-making. In November 1991, he was found drowned floating beside his luxury yacht near the Canary Islands. Investigations revealed that Maxwell’s publishing and newspaper empire was bust, owing £2.8 billion to its bankers. Furthermore there was a £530 million hole in the pension funds of his 16,000 employees. (Adapted from: Roberts, Richard: The Financial Times: Scandals and Debacles. Visit our Contextual Essays section for the full essay).
The Financial Times was one of the media outlets openly opposed to the War on Terror initiated after the September 11th attacks in New York. As with other opposing voices on the issue, the Financial Times questioned the rationale for the initiative, and it’s supposed outcomes. Within its coverage, it described the belief that the forecasted post-war Iraq’s position was a “breathtaking example of the human capacity for self-deception”, especially given the divided opinion in both the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. It echoed the voice of many opposed to the war in discussion over the “doubts of the nation” , given that the “evidence is inconclusive” in regard to supporting the idea. Although not the only mainstream newspaper to openly question the war, it did provide one the highest-profile voices in the debate.
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