Middlemen are fact of life in the Middle East. This is a tale of two of them, a double act whom I shall refer to as Mr A and Mr B.
They were engaged by a Western oil company as advisers in the Middle East for a retainer of $125,000 per quarter. I was hired to handle the project that they would supposedly bring to us.
Mr A was a lean Iraqi in his sixties who always wore the same well-cut but faded grey suit. By turns he was ingratiating and aggressive – an uncomfortable combination. Mr B was in his forties, a rotund Syrian who wore a T-shirt and smoked a large cigar. He looked for all the world like a waiter from Doha.
They claimed to be well connected throughout the Gulf, but came over all vague when pressed for details. For the paltry retainer we were paying, they explained, we could hardly expect to be introduced to the really important people they knew. That would require a proper agency agreement with large success fees.
Each time we met, they produced the same document for us to sign. But each time we saw it the size of the success fee magically increased, rising from 2.5 million dollars to 5 million and then to 10. This was achieved by obscuring the figure with Tippex and typing the new figure over it. The legal effect of this document, had we signed it, hardly bears thinking about.
Enquiries using Western enquiry agents failed to reveal anything about this pair, but our friends in the region quickly discovered the truth.
Mr A was the son of an important figure in Iraq, but his own career had been a failure. He was in London because of the trail of bad debts he had left across the Middle East. Mr B had indeed been a waiter in Doha before he fell in with Mr A and decided to try for the big time.
We later discovered that they fell out after we had dispensed with their services. Mr A had spent the proceeds buying a Mercedes Benz and installing a German prostitute in a flat in Earls Court. Mr B sued in London for his half of the money, but Mr A and the money had long gone.
For some reason they reminded me of Laurel and Hardy, and their catch phrase “here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”
This type of middleman has nothing to offer. Starting with nothing at all, they make contact first with one side and then the other, trying to create a position for themselves in the middle. Dealing with them is a waste of time and money.
A much more dangerous type is the subject of Stooge, another of our Tales from the Arena.
See also: Stooge