Dead presidents in Africa and on Wall Street

Still no word on whether Equatorial Guinea's dictator, Teodoro Obiang, is alive or dead.

Last week, it seemed that one of the world's most notorious despots — also a valued customer of the Bush-connected Riggs Bank in D.C. — was finally dead.

This story in Kenya's Daily Nation immediately surfaced: "Equatorial Guinea president denies rumours of his death."

Classic.

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But that story was based on the word of the dictator's aides. And some of Obiang's aides have been known to torture prisoners with stinging ants, so, you know, not everybody on his staff might be trustworthy.

The president himself has still not surfaced.

Unlike on Wall Street, where millions of dead presidents have surfaced — stuffed into the pockets of the bankers who sparked the financial meltdown.

Today's Wall Street Journal points out that Merrill Lynch's "head of strategy," Peter Kraus, is leaving after less than two months on the job with a "buyout bonanza" of at least $10 million — and maybe $25 million — in his pocket.

When melting-down Merrill was swallowed up by Bank of America, thousands of Merrill workers were sure to be fired. But a clause in Kraus's contract kicked in. The WSJ story notes:

He isn't affected by a provision in the government's rescue plan that curbs executive compensation, a person familiar with the situation said. Those restrictions cover the CEO, chief financial officer and three other highest-paid executives of the firm.

Many other Wall Street execs have buyout clauses that kick in when control of the companies they work for changes hands. So Kraus won't be the only one walking away with all those dead presidents.

We can only hope that Kraus is not going into "public service." Not that he wouldn't make out like a bandit if he chose to.

When Goldman Sachs CEO Hank Paulson quit in 2006 to become Treasury Secretary, he had to rid himself of his Goldman stock. After negotiating with his own company on a settlement, he walked away with a cool $110 million for his shares and options — don't think for one second that Paulson had spent much to obtain those shares; like other Wall Street execs, he got most of them just handed to him.

That deal gave him the experience he needed to figure out how to curb executive compensation during the bailout.


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