Title: The Grand Scam
Subtitle: How Barry Tannenbaum conned South Africa's business elite
Type: Social Issues; Business
Author: Rob Rose
Publisher: Zebra Press; Random House Struik
Cape Town, South Africa 2013
ISBN 9781770226210 / ISBN 978-1-77022-621-0
Softcover, 15x23 cm, 272 pages
The story of Barry Tannenbaum isn't a new one. It is a record on repeat that has played out in forgotten corners of the country through the 'vrotmelk' scandal in the 1960s, the Krion scam in the early 1990s, the Miracle 2000 fraud a few years later, and the Brett Kebble swindle during the early years of this century. How an innocuous former advertising salesman in his early forties, described as a 'great human being', managed to dupe South Africa's cleverest and most financially savvy out of so much money makes it perhaps the most audacious of all South Africa's cons.
I realised a few years back, after I'd worked as a journalist for a while at publications like Business Day, the Financial Mail and the Sunday Times, that this country has so many spectacular stories to which few other countries could lay claim. These stories often make sensational headlines for a few months then flame out into a series of scrappy ill-informed updates, anorexic in detail and insight. But I realised that the Tannenbaum story, labyrinthine in its development and intriguing in its peculiar detail, was one of those that demanded to be set to paper as a narrative, told from front to back so that, next time it happens, we'll know that this time it isn't different.
The Americans, with a rich history of narrative journalism, do this well. At last count, there were more than ten books on Bernie Madoff, deconstructing that country's biggest fraud and tabulating the lessons from it. Yet on Tannenbaum, who fleeced South Africans with a fearful symmetry to Madoff, we have nothing. My goal, based on the new information I found out in the past year, was to provide a recipe book for how a Ponzi scheme is brewed, as well as provide insight into what personal demons would lead someone to do this.