Being a basic matter of survival left me with no option other than to quickly learn the ropes.  The bottom line being that in a couple of months down the road I was actually earning my keep.

Treading of toes being avoided, each one of the five traders in the company operated in different countries, defining their own commodity portfolios.  Mine being Iran, I was in and out of the country at least once a month.  In the bargain I ended up striking up friendships which, happily, are alive and kicking even today.

One of the other traders, whose area of operation was Turkey, had concluded that the Clipboard03ever burgeoning demand for steel bars for construction was a product he could build his portfolio around.  A very sound business strategy considering that Dubai was going through one of its many building booms which showed no signs of flagging off anytime in the foreseeable future.  Having identified an optimum source in Turkey, the gentleman had brought in two shiploads of the steel which were warehoused in an open yard in the Jebel Ali port.  While he was also off-loading sizable parcels of his stock to various buyers, his single biggest customer for the steel bars was a Mr. Zaroni, an apparently well established Iranian businessman based in Dubai.

Zaroni’s modus operandi was a simple and uncomplicated one.  Being prompt and spot-on with his payments and building up trust with the trader over a series of deals, over a period of time the size and value of his orders became quite substantial.  Which is when the devious Ponzi scheme was set in operation with a very simple request which, considering the quantum of his dealings with the company, obviously could not be refused.

The upshot was a tiny little snowball placed on top of a gently sloping hillside.

On due date of payment of a particular invoice since he was a little tight on funds and to help him tide over, could he settle 80% of the value.  Accompanying the cheque was another contract, this time for a larger parcel of steel.  Over a period of 6/7 months, what followed was a series of similar requests being made and being accepted.  The hapless trader, akin to someone on a constantly accelerating treadmill and unable to hop off the machine, was simply left with no option other than to keep servicing Zaroni’s ever expanding demand for the commodity.

The particular trader having to head to India to attend to some unavoidable personal work, is when yours truly makes an entry into the picture.  Having been requested by the boss to follow up on realising payments from the company’s largest and most respected client  I was left with no option other than to take the bull by its horns.  Having met the fellow only very briefly on one of his frequent visits to our office and since I did not really know him, I requested the company CFO to accompany me to Zaroni’s lair located in one of the prime office blocks in Dubai.

Having been let in to the office by a bored and forlorn looking watchman perched on a bare wooden stool outside the main door, before we reached the bosses personal chamber room, we had to wend our way through a rather expansive work-place.  An office very lavishly furnished with any number of office tables and chairs in the front, behind which were laid out a large array of spanking new and gleaming very well equipped work-stations.  Not one of which, neither the tables nor the work stations was manned!

Walking into Zaroni’s very plush chamber, the ‘gentleman’ literally jumped out from behind his massive desk to approach us.  His office table, barring one solitary phoneClipboard03 instrument, was the most uncluttered one I had ever set eyes on with not even so much as a pen or any piece of paper to distract from that barren emptiness.  Effusive and parroting a series of “Marhaban” greetings, the two of us were pecked on both cheeks before he pulled out to chairs for us to sit down on.  Not giving him so much as an opportunity to steer us away with the typically Arab penchant for small talk which I knew from experience, could go on indefinitely, I simply waded in with the reason for our visit.  Which he would, needless to say, have figured out the moment we set foot into his den with a perfunctory Salaam Alaikum‘.

  • Mr. Zaroni you know that Mr. xxxx is away on leave.
  • Vallahi!  For how long?
  • For a few days. In his absence I have been tasked to follow up on your account.
  • No problem with our account Habibi
  • Mr. Zaroni your payments are long overdue.
  • Settling Habibi, settling.
  • I know, but now the outstanding is over a million dollar.
  • Mafi Mushkil Habibi.
  • Anyway since our CFO is also with me, can you call your accountant so that we could reconcile our account with yours.
  • Wallah no problem

With which he picked up his phone receiver into which he made some cooing sounds before placing it back in the cradle and bestowing us with a very smug look.  The office door was opened by an obviously Egyptian lady blessed with an upper superstructure constructed along such generous lines that this had made its entry into the office just a wee bit ahead of the balance part of the lady sauntered in.  Walking past us to the other side of the table she bent over Zaroni who, having given her an affectionate pat on her posterior, whispered a few words into her ear.  Off she went to breeze in a short twoClipboard02 minutes later holding a white envelope between her thumb and finger of her extended arm, similar to the way one would hold a child’s diaper after the said child has filled it with goodies!

Handing the envelope to Zaroni and, in return, receiving another friendly pat on her behind, she duly exited the scene.

My mouth agape and my eyes popping out I watched our friend turn the envelope upside down for a whole bunch of postage stamp sized papers fluttering out to settle down on his table.  Each bit of confetti we could make out had a few notations and figures scribbled on it.

  • Sir, what is this?
  • Wallah !  Your company account.
  • Don’t you have any books?
  • Books?  What for?  Everything is here.  Habibi every Fil is well accounted for.

As a first for me and with an uncharacteristic total loss of words I just turned to Mr. CFO and suggested we leave.  Thanking Zaroni for his ‘curtesy’ the two of us rode the elevator down in deathly silence.  Exiting the building and stepping on to the road with cars whizzing past at some speed, I finally found my voice.

  • Buddy, have you insured this bloke?
  • Because if you have not, suggest that is the first thing you need to do as soon as we are back in our office.
  • God forbid that some day Zaroni walks out of this building and gets flattened by one of these speeding vehicles, not only will he have kicked the bucket, he’ll take our entire set-up down the tube with him!

In hindsight, prophetic words because, while Zaroni did not kick the bucket, a couple of months after this episode he disappeared from Dubai ending up across the Straits of Hormuz  probably in his ancestral village in the south of Iran, safe and well away from the arms of the UAE laws.

And our lovely International Trading Company…………….!!

Life is an experience and a lesson every step of the way!