When Salomon Brothers, one of Wall Street's most powerful investment houses, was putting together a $930-million mortgage package for the US subsidiary of Olympia and York, its representatives asked to inspect some of the company's financial records. Finally they were told, with extreme reluctance, "We'll do for you what we do with our banks. We'll let you see the documents, but we'll tape them to the top of the desks you can't leave the building with them. And you can't take notes."
On that kind of basis, the deeply secretive Reichmann brothers, operating out of Toronto, were able to build up a worldwide property empire with accumulated debts of well over £11 billion, before being forced to reveal the extent of the financial problems that have now overwhelmed them.
No fewer than 100 banks had been happy - indeed eager and hungry - to help them raise the money, without even bothering to consider the possible extent and nature of other people's involvement. One project alone, the Canary Wharf development in London's Docklands, carried a price tag of £4 billion when its affairs were put into administration earlier this summer, and was still absorbing fresh capital at the rate of £1 million a day.