TRUST is the bedrock of business everywhere, but the sources from which it springs are different. In Japan, where reputation and relationships are considered precious, the informal cues are as important as the legalistic ones. Parties take their time discussing deals. Managers meet to exchange meishi—their all-important business cards (usually presented with two hands)—and bow respectfully. It helps to establish confidence.
So it was that when a handful of bankers from Lehman Brothers met executives of Marubeni, one of Japan’s largest trading houses, at Marubeni’s headquarters across from the Imperial Palace last autumn, they never suspected that they were actually being drawn into a massive fraud. The teams had met numerous times to discuss a bridge loan. Reams of paperwork were supplied. In a convoluted agreement, Lehman provided more than $350m in financing to a small firm with ties to Marubeni (and founded by a cousin of the empress of Japan); the trading house guaranteed repayment.
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