September 27, 2011

‘Trader’ Alessio Rastani Prays for Recession, Says Millions Will Lose Savings

BBC stands by its viral video that others are calling a hoax

Alessio Rastani. (Facebook) Alessio Rastani. (Facebook)

A BBC video gone viral is leaving investors wondering whether Goldman Sachs will make a killing while “the savings of millions of people are going to vanish.”

While stock markets around the world have surged in response to a plan to prevent an economic train wreck through a European version of the U.S. TARP program, Alessio Rastani, identified by the BBC as an independent trader, has transfixed investors with a prophecy of doom delivered with a candor and plausibility that led the BBC interviewer to say she saw the jaws of all around her drop.

The ensuing brouhaha kindled across the blogosphere has triggered debate not only about the likelihood of Rastani’s doomsday prediction but about whether the whole thing might have been a hoax by an anticapitalist group called the Yes Men.

The interview opens with Rastani panning the European rescue plan: “The market is gonna crash, and it's gonna fall pretty hard. Because markets are ruled right now by fear. Investors, the big money, the smart money, I'm talking about the big funds, the big hedge funds, the institutions, they don't buy this rescue plan, they basically ... they know the market is toast … They're moving their money away to safer assets, like Treasury bonds, 30-year bonds, and the U.S.-dollar. So, it's not gonna work."

With a sincerity and earnestness in every twitch of his empathetic face and every halting exhalation, Rastani added: “Personally, I’ve been dreaming of this moment for three years … I go to bed every night and I dream of another recession. When the market crashes … if you know what to do, if you have the right plan set up, you can make a lot of money from this.”

It was then that jaws dropped in the BBC studio, but Rastani–honestly or deceptively–played perfectly to the global anxiety about the economic crisis: “This economic crisis is like a cancer. If you just wait and wait thinking this is gonna go away ... just like a cancer it's gonna grow and it's gonna be too late. What I would say to anybody is: Get prepared! This is not the time right now for wishful thinking that the government is gonna sort things out. The governments don't rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world. Goldman Sachs does not care about this rescue package and neither does the big funds.

“The first thing people should do is to protect their assets. Protect what they have. Because in less than 12 months, my prediction is, the savings of millions of people is gonna vanish."

While these comments, and the seeming genuineness with which they were delivered, have fueled debate across the web as to the efficacy of measures to contain the spread of the debt crisis, there has been a parallel debate as to whether Rastani is really a member of the Yes Men, anticapitalist activists who impersonate the people they dislike as a means of exposing what they view as the real truth about corporations.

The Rastani interview seemed almost too real to be true. But, Rastani’s quote about Goldman Sachs ruling the world and winning trading profits while millions will lose their savings -- tucked nicely into such a credibly delivered interview -- could well fit the Yes Men’s profile.

The BBC says, "We've carried out detailed investigations and can't find any evidence to suggest that the interview ... was a hoax.”

In an interview with Forbes, Rastani talks about his history as a trader and denies any connection to the Yes Men. His website even contains a detailed analysis posted Monday titled Why I Pray for Another Recession.

But, a BBC interview on the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal gas leak that killed thousands shows a Union Carbide corporate spokesman that bears an uncanny resemblance to Rastani.

Late Tuesday, the British Telegraph blew what looks like big hole in Rastanti’s story. The paper found he is not registered with the U.K.’s Financial Services Authority as a trader. Rastani fought to preserve his credibility, admitting to the Telegraph that he’s not a trader but distancing himself from any notion that his BBC performance was a hoax: “I'm an attention seeker. That is the main reason I speak. That is the reason I agreed to go on the BBC. Trading is a like a hobby. It is not a business. I am a talker. I talk a lot. I love the whole idea of public speaking. I agreed to go on because I'm an attention seeker," he said on Tuesday. "But I meant every word I said."

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