Economy & Politics

History seriesHow the match king Ivar Kreuger deceived the whole world

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The “Leonardo” of fraud? Ivar Kreuger’s public image is as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa’s smileGetty Images

The man who might save Germany sits alone in the Hotel Adlon and eats chocolate soufflé and caviar, meat broth and then an ice cream. In this order. Why in this order? As is so often the case with Ivar Kreuger, one could only speculate about the answer.

One thing is clear: the mysterious business magician from Sweden, whom they call “The Match King” all over the world – which is only skinnyly translated as “match king” – has a long-term loan of 125 million dollars to the German finance minister on October 26, 1929 promised. The largest loan that a private individual has ever given a state.

Germany urgently needs the money because its young democracy has its back to the wall again. In the summer, she negotiated a package of treaties with the victors of the World War, which should finally bring all disputes over reparations and occupation to an end.

present from heaven

But the great architect of reconciliation, Gustav Stresemann, recently died. The extreme right, which recently celebrated a certain Adolf Hitler, is calling for a referendum on the so-called Young Plan. The economy is weak, the state is bare. Kreuger’s credit is a godsend for Berlin. Even if he demands a match monopoly for it. Few suspect that the “Match King” will also have his back to the wall, that this deal will also be the salvation for him.

Kreuger, who will be 50 years old in a few months, has created a global economic empire in the Roaring Twenties, to which the seemingly endless rally on Wall Street continued to pour new funds. But since the stock exchanges have been shaky, the confidence of investors and banks has been dwindling rapidly. Kreuger needs a lot of fresh money all the time, needs the return of trust – so he needs a really big coup.

A few weeks ago he gave a major interview to a carefully selected US journalist. It was the first and only – just enough to cause a hype in the entire press. Next week the “Time” magazine will even appear with Kreuger on the cover. The loan to Germany – for which he still has to find the money – is the big number that should impress. The more casual it looks, the better.

Kreuger owns luxury apartments all over the world, in Berlin he resides directly at the Brandenburg Gate. He usually avoids the public. But maybe on this Saturday evening it is really useful to go over to the Adlon and show yourself discreetly partying? Maybe a somewhat quirky menu will help spread the story of his success?

In retrospect, however, the Berlin solo dinner looks like an anticipated executioner’s meal. Because the events shortly before will be remembered in Germany as Black Friday, with which the global economic crisis begins. When the New York Stock Exchange opened on Monday – and “Time” with the Kreuger title appeared – there was again no stopping the courses. By Tuesday evening alone, the market will drop another 25 percent. The disaster that follows ends with an estimated $ 400 million loss for Kreuger’s investors. For the “Match King” it ends with a shot and a bullet in the heart.

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