Like Shooting Heroin Into the Veins

It is amazing to see, time after time, just how the lust for quick profits can drive people crazy, to what extent the dream of getting rich quickly without actually working can turn their heads.

It is amazing to see, time after time, just how the lust for quick profits can drive people crazy, to what extent the dream of getting rich quickly without actually working can turn their heads. For the sad story of Moni Fanan is not new. From time to time there are reports of "financial geniuses" who promised their investors profits of 5 percent per month and even managed to provide that for a certain period, until they crashed.

The collapse takes on different forms. Some people admit to the fraud and end their lives in jail, like Bernard Madoff who conducted the biggest pyramid scheme in history. Some admit themselves into a private psychiatric hospital, like the British broker Nick Levene. And some have such a bad conscience that they commit suicide, like Moni Fanan.

One thing is clear: All these stories end badly. Because anyone who promises a fixed return in advance (and it makes no difference if it is 2 percent or 5 percent a month), must collapse sooner or later. No business in this volatile world in which we live can provide profits of that kind. It is true that one can play the gray market, or bet on exchange rates, or buy risky shares; these are acts that can yield good profits for a certain period, but the moment will always come when the market changes direction and everything you have invested will be wiped out in one fell swoop.

There is also no human being who, after he gets a 5 percent profit in one month, will say, "I have earned enough, now I'll move on to something safer, like government bonds that provide a 3 percent annual return."

Because the abnormal profits are like a drug, like shooting heroin into one's veins. In the beginning, the feeling is great but the next morning you suffer from a horrible hangover and withdrawal symptoms that force you to increase the dosage until you collapse.

Fanan conducted his business with a great deal of finesse. On the one hand, he did not accept payment for serving as the manager of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team (and in this way assured his continued employment), but on the other hand this was precisely the kind of activity that made it possible for him to set up a private bank, a bank whose profits were many tens of times higher than any salary he could have received from the club.

Basketball players, coaches and referees deposited huge sums in his bank, without guarantees and without documents, because they believed in Fanan, the devoted manager, the hardworking man who looked after his players as a parent would. They believed he would take care of their money like he took care of Maccabi. And because these are wealthy people, Fanan's bank grew bigger and bigger until he had hundreds of clients and tens of millions of dollars.

Since not only people from Maccabi invested with him but also players from other teams as well as basketball referees, the question that has to be asked is whether the profits Fanan provided them had an effect on the quality of the refereeing, or the desire to win, in games against Maccabi.

They would hand over cash-filled envelopes to him and he would say to them, "It will be okay, honey." Then he would transfer the cash to the gray market (which is in actual fact an illegal black market with murderous interest rates that is controlled by the underworld) as well as to dangerous investments all over the world, transactions that he carried out via Nick Levene. Most of the time, it was "black" money on which no tax had been paid and therefore the owners were afraid to invest it in a recognized establishment.

But no one is invulnerable forever. In June 2008, the turning point came. Fanan was dismissed from the position of manager at Maccabi and thus his tresses were trimmed. His charm waned and the investors began withdrawing their money. The final blow came with the collapse of Levene, who owed Fanan $20 million. So when some of the players approached him last week to demand that he return their money, he didn't have the wherewithal.

Fanan was not alone. From time to time there are reports about similar crashes in the illusions market, like the story of Uriel Amar, an ultra-Orthodox man who was born in France and came to Israel in 2004. Amar held well-attended meetings in Petah Tikva in which he promised hundreds of people a monthly yield of 5 percent. He told them he was one of the world's biggest mediators in the commodities field, the manager of two technological incubators, and had 83 businesses in Israel and another 100 worldwide, including a French firm that builds 200 planes a year.

Amar operated mainly among religious circles and most of his money was obtained from the evacuees from Gush Katif, eager to quickly double the compensation they had received from the state. A few months ago, he fled to France where he is continuing to spend his time in luxury hotels, even though the Jerusalem District Court has issued an order for him to declare bankruptcy. That is how con men operate - they sting and then disappear.

Anyone who thinks that the bitter fate of Fanan and the investors' loss of money will teach the general public a lesson is mistaken. The lust for profit is part of human nature, and there will always be charismatic con men who will continue to promise a monthly yield of 5 percent. And it makes no difference how impossible that is.