A board of company directors is summoned to explain itself to a Whitehall Select Committee. The Bank of England has already had to bail out the company, the British economy has taken a hit in the fallout, and Parliament has now been recalled to discuss the company’s massive debts. In the committee room, the directors face allegations of embezzlement, bribe taking, and corruption, including the dispensing of ‘presents’ worth $262 million over an eight-year period.
The scene is depressingly familiar. Is this Lehman Brothers? Enron? Some of the stars of subprime? None of the above. The year is 1772 and the directors, in charge of what was then the world’s largest trading company, have just requested ‘one of history’s first mega-bailouts’. All part of the rise of the East India Company, the ‘world’s first aggressive multinational corporation,’ as told in William Dalrymple’s latest history.