According to Forbes, cash hidden in offshore banks is equivalent to at least ten percent of global GDP. And the best estimate for projected global GDP in 2019 is $88 trillion. So at least $8.8 trillion has been socked away in secret accounts in tax havens such as Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, and Luxembourg. However, other estimates of that hidden wealth run as high as $21 to $32 trillion. (Just for the record, a billion is a thousand millions, and a trillion is a thousand billions.) The world gained a window on some of that banking activity in 2015 through the Panama Papers. And Cristina Alger dramatizes an offshore banking scandal in her recent novel, The Banker’s Wife, by imagining an offshore banking scandal not involving Panama but instead Luxembourg and Switzerland.
The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger (2018) 351 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
Two women and an offshore banking scandal
The novel closely follows the lives of two remarkable young women. Annabel Werner is the eponymous banker’s wife:
- She’s married to Matthew Werner, a rising young personal banker at Switzerland’s largest bank, Swiss United, in Geneva. Annabel’s life begins to unravel when Matthew dies in plane crash on the flight of a private plane from London in the company of a client.
- Meanwhile, Marina Tourneau is in Paris with her fiancé, Grant Ellis. Marina is an investigative journalist who is on the verge of resigning her job because Grant’s father is about to declare his candidacy for President.
Alger tells the two women’s stories in parallel as both become embroiled in seemingly independent efforts to leak secret information about Swiss United’s criminal activities. It’s an exciting tale, reeking of suspense, and exceedingly well told.
What really happened after that leak?
In Alger’s imagination, the consequences of her fictional leak are massive: “more than a hundred arrests, the dismantling of several drug cartels, money-laundering operations, and one significant terrorist network.” And several Americans are “indicted for tax fraud, including three senators, two congressmen, two federal judges, and several CEOs of major corporations.” She also imagines the US government recovering at least $1 billion in back tax payments.
Would that it were so.
In the real world, the consequences of the Panama Papers disclosures were splashy but of limited impact. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which coordinated reporting on the leak, reports that the disclosures prompted investigations in 82 countries. This led to the recovery of $1.2 billion in 22 countries (not just the US), the arrest of the founders of Mosseck Fonseca (the former Panamanian law firm at the center of the scandal), and the resignation or prosecution of a number of public officials, none of them US Congressmen or Senators. And authorities in several countries have recently opened additional investigations. Drug cartels? Russian mafia? Not likely. It takes a lot more than an offshore banking scandal to bring about such dramatic change.
About the author
This is Cristina Alger‘s third novel; a fourth was published days before this review. She comes to the subject of an offshore banking scandal honestly as a graduate of Harvard College and NYU Law School. (She worked as a financial analyst and corporate attorney before turning to writing fiction.) Kirkus Reviews raved about The Banker’s Wife, writing “This brisk, tense page-turner will mesmerize fans of international mysteries.”
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