Ghosts of former delegates haunt cocktail parties in Davos

Individuals who go to Davos – folks like me – are sometimes derided for being smug and boastful. There is not any denying that there is an air of complacency about many summit events. What a thrill to search out your self alongside billionaires and potentates. Even higher if you happen to’re on a panel sharing critical concepts about the right way to “save the world.”

However this yr, on the cocktail reception, I had to think about the ghosts. The folks I as soon as met in Davos – however who at the moment are lifeless, lacking or in shame.

On the prime of the checklist of disgrace is Vladimir Putin, whom I met in a comparatively dingy lodge in Davos in 2009. At this level, Putin was nonetheless an honored participant, blissful(ish) to speak with a small group of Western journalists – and the chief of a giant and boisterous Russian delegation.

Davos was an enormous factor for the Russians. They held court docket, made offers and partied exhausting. Oleg Deripaska, the aluminum oligarch, held probably the most lavish celebration yearly. At a dinner in 2019, I sat subsequent to Alexei Mordashov, the billionaire boss of metal firm Severstal. We had a considerably surreal dialog about whether or not the Russian state had truly despatched assassins to the UK to try to kill former agent Sergei Skripal. Mordashov claimed he reluctantly concluded that the orders in all probability got here from the Russian state. This yr I met somebody who had been at that dinner and requested myself aloud once I would see Mordashov subsequent? “Most likely by no means,” was the reply. Sounds proper.

In 2008, a yr earlier than I met Putin, I interviewed Pervez Musharraf, then President of Pakistan, in Davos. “There isn’t a hazard in Pakistan,” he assured us. “Enterprise goes effectively.” A number of months later he was pressured out of workplace and went into exile.

This was a comparatively dignified departure in comparison with the destiny of Viktor Yanukovych, then Prime Minister of Ukraine, who I sat subsequent to at a Davos wine tasting in 2007. Since we did not have a typical language, we sipped our Château Lafite Stille. Whereas I am nonetheless going to Davos, I’ve largely canceled the wine tastings. However the place is Yanukovych right now? He fled Ukraine in 2014 after the Orange Revolution – and is claimed to be lurking someplace in Russia.

After which there are the little brokers. When Donald Trump spoke in Davos in 2018, Rob Porter was the White Home’s official press briefing. A month later he was pressured to resign after being accused of hitting his spouse.

What in regards to the Davos enterprise heroes who’re additionally susceptible to sudden falls? Final yr, cryptocurrency change FTX was listed by Sam Bankman-Fried as an official discussion board companion. Now FTX has collapsed and Bankman-Fried has exchanged his Davos badge for handcuffs.

That is an outdated story. In 2001, the Discussion board held a session on “The Form of the Enterprise for the twenty first Century” – with a speech by Kenneth Lay, Enron’s CEO. A number of months later, Enron had recorded one of many largest company bankruptcies in historical past. Lay was finally arrested in 2004.

It is not simply People who’ve fallen. In 2018, Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn took the principle stage in Davos and took half in a session entitled “In the direction of a Higher Capitalism”. In November of this yr he was arrested in Japan. That very same yr I met Jack Ma – China’s most well-known entrepreneur – in Davos. He instructed the discussion board, “Love is necessary in enterprise.” However the Chinese language authorities has apparently determined that loyalty and discretion are much more necessary. After angering the celebration, Ma retired from enterprise and fled the general public eye.

By Chinese language requirements, that is a fairly light lintel. I usually consider Rui Chenggang, a good-looking Chinese language TV host and revered nationalist. I struck up a dialog with him in 2014 after he attended my interview with then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (himself assassinated final yr) in Davos. Rui instructed me to see him once I was in Beijing. I by no means bought the possibility as a result of he was arrested that yr on corruption prices. He’s stated to have been secretly sentenced to a protracted jail time period.

Western journalists have additionally failed. Lately, the #MeToo motion has relegated family names – like US TV presenter Charlie Rose, who interviewed Jack Ma on the discussion board in 2015 – from Davos to the doghouse.

What explains this collection of accidents? Is it me? Is it Davos? My preliminary conclusion is that on the WEF you meet people who find themselves in full swing. To even get there, you will have taken large dangers and seen them work out. This could make you are feeling infallible. However my recommendation to different Davosers: if you happen to ever really feel invincible, simply check out the checklist of previous contributors. And shudder.

gideon.rachman@ft.com