By Bertil Lintner
10 Months in Laos: A Vast Web of Intrigue, Missing Millions and Murder, by Paul Conroy. Crown Content. A$19.50 ($10.85)
Max Green, a mildly successful lawyer from Melbourne, was found dead in a hotel room in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, in 1998. He had been bludgeoned with a lamp and a brick, then strangled with a necktie.
The killer left no clues. But it emerged that Green was linked to an investment scam in Laos, which, as it turned out, was part of one of the biggest swindles in Australian history.
Green had solicited millions of dollars from investors in Melbourne, promising tax write-offs and high returns from investments in a sapphire mine near the small town of Ban Huay Xay in northwestern Laos. The problem was that although the mine did exist, it did not contain much in the way of gemstones.
The money Green solicited disappeared into a raft of offshore companies and secret bank accounts. No one was caught--except an Australian couple, Kerry and Kay Danes, who had been hired to provide security for the firm in Laos. They were the only ones left behind when the Lao authorities raided the company's offices in the capital, Vientiane. They were charged with stealing sapphires from the mine, and sentenced to seven years in jail.
Following intervention from the Australian government, the Danes were set free after 10 months--hence the title of this book--and returned home. But they had very little to say about the shady dealings of the company, perhaps because they were not fully aware of what they had got themselves involved in.
Paul Conroy, a journalist formerly with The Age in Melbourne, unravels much of the mystery surrounding the death of Green and the mine in Laos in this highly readable book. He travels to Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Vientiane to meet the people involved. Few are willing to talk, but Conroy puts the puzzle together, piece by piece, in an entertaining style. What emerges is a tangled tale of intrigue, deceit, shady characters, and missing millions.
This review first appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, July 18, 2002
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