What does the life of an Ottoman-born ethnic Armenian oil tycoon have to teach us about the modern world? Quite a lot, it turns out, judging by this fascinating biography of Calouste Gulbenkian, a dealmaker for the ages and, at his death in 1955, the world’s richest man, The Guardian says in its review of “Mr Five Per Cent” by Jonathan Conlin.
“Stripped of anachronisms, Gulbenkian looks remarkably like a modern oligarch, with his high-ranking connections in all countries, his border-straddling ambitions, his children at English schools, and his business interests in the liminal sphere we now call “offshore”. He used corporate structures to own property, and skilfully balanced his and his family members’ movements between countries to avoid being beholden to any tax authority,” the article says.
“He owned his portfolio of shares and bonds via a Liechtenstein entity called Anstalt Vega, which meant he paid only 100 Swiss francs in tax in 1931 – on assets valued at £4.6m (£288m in today’s money). Much of his empire was structured and controlled via the UK, but he had no intention of paying for the privilege.
“‘Mr Five Per Cent’ is written precisely, with flashes of dry humour, and Conlin wears the depth of his research lightly. The story he tells is one of a businessman playing off great powers in the Middle East, exploiting loopholes in the world’s financial architecture, avoiding accountability, making a fortune for himself, and spending it on a life of luxury. Gulbenkian may have been a unique talent of a past age, but his heirs are all around us.”
According to the book’s page on Amazon, “Mr Five Per Cent” is out on January 10.Related links:The Guardian. Mr Five Per Cent by Jonathan Conlin review – the world’s richest man