Book review – Rose among the thorns

2014-06-08 15:00

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The Grand Scam by Rob Rose

Zebra Press

344 pages

R176 at

The thing about business books is that they’re boring. They’re written for dedicated readers. It’s not meant to be enjoyed.

At least that’s how I felt going through Barry Sergeant’s The Assault on the Rand, which tries to explain how the shadowy elite and a bunch of dodgy bankers were behind the collapse of the rand from R7.60 to R13.84 against the dollar in 2001.

The premise is interesting enough, but when, by page 69, Sergeant was still gaaning aan about Kevin Wakeford, the former boss of the SA Chamber of Business – as it was then known – I lost all interest.

Sure, Wakeford blew the whistle on the dodgy dealings, but I don’t think it was necessary to go into detail about how many black friends he had during apartheid or which park he camped his caravan in December of 2001.

So when a copy of Rob Rose’s The Grand Scam landed on my desk recently, I was a bit reluctant. Another boring business book? But curiosity eventually got the better of me.

The Grand Scam examines the life of “the man behind the biggest corporate fraud in South Africa’s history” – Barry Tannenbaum. It’s a whydunit that also looks at what he did to convince sophisticated investors such as a former Pick n Pay CEO and an old JSE boss that his R12.5 billion Ponzi scheme was legit.

Most interesting was the involvement of Jawmend Rossi Capital, which also invested in the scheme but, unlike other investors who lost their savings, walked off with millions in profit.

Jawmend Rossi’s Jonathan Jawno, Michael Mendelowitz and Roberto Rossi are now on the board of financial services group Transaction Capital, the company behind vehicle financier SA Taxi.

“Those guys are ruthless,” says Rose over coffee. “Did you see how much money they made from the scheme?” He whistles.

The book will tell you why. And what Tannenbaum did with those billions. The answer will shock you.

Not a boring business book after all.

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