time I got busted in Greece was in 1972, when I was in Athens, staying
with a friend named Steve Kowald. Steve was an American who had been living
in Europe for the past five years, working for IOS, a Swiss-based investment
company headed by yet another American, Bernie Cornfeld.
IOS was flying high in those days. Thanks to its aggressive sales and
marketing efforts it had sold millions of dollars worth of mutual
funds and annuities on the continent. It had also made equally impressive
profits for its clients, earning them annually as much as 20% interest
Steve was one of IOS best salesman, a real hard-charger. To reward
him for his achievements, Cornfeld offered him a new job: kick-starting
an IOS life-insurance company in Greece. It made good business sense,
because at the time Greeks could only buy personal insurance policies
from one of the countrys handful of banks. These conservative, state-run
institutions had little interest in the insurance business; consequently,
they made it fiendishly difficult for the average citizen to buy a policy.
Steve moved fast to fill the vacuum. He moved to Athens, opened an office,
hired a bunch of hungry salesmen, trained them well, and turned them loose
on the Greek populace, using newspaper, magazine and radio ads to stir
up interest in low-cost, easy-to-obtain life insurance.
The result was quite remarkable. Hundreds and then tens of thousands of
policies were sold in the first six months. The drachmas poured into the
coffers of IOS; Steve and his crew became flush with success, proud and
cocky as bullfighters.
The story had a kicker to it, though. IOS business in Greece was
policies themselves were genuine, having been underwritten by a Swiss
bank. It was the company itself that was suspect, having failed thus far
to obtain a government license to operate in Greece.
Steve had done his best to legitimize the operation; hed hired lawyers,
written letters, made presentations to the relevant authorities. But the
Greek banks, united in their opposition to IOS, put pressure on the government
to keep these foreign upstarts out of the market. Greece for Greeks only
was their mantra.
Steve didnt let that stop him, though. He and his salesmen simply
went underground. They closed the IOS office and worked out of their homes,
trying to fly under the radar. The ploy worked for a while and they kept
writing policies; but then came the day when Steve got a panicked call
from Spyros, his closest friend and ace salesman.
The police have been ordered by the Minister of Interior to find
and arrest each one of us!
Steve slammed the phone down and hurriedly began to destroy his files.
As I happened to be a guest in his Neo Faliron house, I naturally offered
to help him. We spent the next two hours scooping up paperwork and setting
it afire in a backyard fireplace. Noxious smoke billowed up into the sky
and cast a pall over the neighborhood.
By nightfall, Steve was gone; he didnt tell me where. Its
best you dont know, just in case the police decide to question you.
Maybe I should disappear myself, move into a hotel.
got nothing to worry about. Youve never worked for IOS. Youre
His advice seemed to make sense. It was Wednesday; I was going back to
Rhodes on Friday. The police might not even show up before then. But even
if they did, I surely would not be considered a person of interest to
Big mistake. The police came at dawn the next day, two uniformed cops
and a detective. They seemed surprised to find me there and kept checking
my name against those on their master list.
Who are you and what are you doing here? the detective asked
I am a friend of Steve Korwalds, staying with him for a few
They went through all of my belongings and found, in a jacket pocket,
a big roll of drachmas.
Where did this money come from?
I couldnt very well tell the truth, because, like Steve, I was working
unofficially in Greece. That didnt apply to the money I made as
a journalist and novelist; that money was earned abroad and was transferred
to me, legally, through the National Bank of Greece. But about a year
earlier, I had met on the beach at Lindos a plump, roguish German named
Walter Schaub who ran a company that published the international telex
I need a sales representative in Greece, Schaub said. I
sink you can do zee job.
But I have no sales or business experience, I replied.
Doesnt matter. You speak Greek and know how to handle yourself.
I think you vill do vell in ziss job!
my way to Athens for some training. The job involved cold calling, walking
into an office and making a pitch for the company to buy a set of the
Much to my surprise, I found the work easy and remunerative. Many Greek
businesses, especially the ship-owners and -operators in Piraeus, used
telex all the time; some of their offices had as many as a dozen machines
clattering away, spitting out reams of messages in rapid-fire fashion.
Having a set of international directories with up-to-date numbers was
a boon, even a necessity, to them.
The cash in my jacket pocket had been collected during the course of my
work; minus my forty per cent commission, it would be turned over to Schaub
the next time he visited Greece. It was good money, money that I really
needed-but it was black money, clandestine money.
Thinking fast, I said to the detective, My children will be attending
the American Community School in Athens this fall. This is their tuition
The detective eyed me narrowly, suspiciously. But then he shrugged and
handed over the wad, saying, All right. You can keep this, but you
will still need to come down to headquarters with us.
A bunch of Steves neighbors had gathered outside; they watched impassively
as I was led to the squad car and driven off.
Headquarters was on a side street in mid-town Athens; the big, four-story
building had a grim, forbidding air.
The first thing I did when the interrogation got under way was to ask
for a translator.
you speak Greek, came the objection.
True, but my knowledge of the language does not include police business.
A translator was summoned. He was in plain clothes, probably another detective.
He sat down beside me. The interrogator, a gold-braided captain, looked
at me coldly.
How did you meet Mr Korwald? he asked.
I explained that Steve and his friend Spyros had come to Lindos a year
ago, arriving in a rubber boat powered by a powerful outboard engine.
The two of them, keen spear-fishermen, had been hopping from island to
island, free-diving in the blue Aegean, searching for groupers, octopus
As I am a spear-fisherman myself, I told the captain, I
invited them to come out in my boat with me. We fished together for about
two weeks and became good friends. When Steve left he invited me to stay
with him when I came to Athens. I readily accepted his invitation.
Did he ever talk about his work with you?
Once in a while.
What did he say?
He told me that he was in the insurance business.
Thats all? No talk of the legal problems he was having in
Im sorry. Thats all I know. Most of our conversations
were about other things.
Such as your work as a journalist?
kind of journalism do you do?
I write travel articles about Greece--its beautiful islands. Athens
and its famous museums and acropolis. That kind of thing.
You make a living from this?
That money plus what I earn writing books enables us to live in
the village of Lindos.
But you said your children were going to go to school in Athens.
Thats true. They will start school in the fall. My family
will be moving here next month.
Will you still work as a journalist?
Yes, but Ill be doing a different kind of journalism. Ill
be writing news features for the Financial Post of Canada.
How come Canada? Youre an American.
Doesnt matter. They speak English in Canada, you know.
The captain didnt crack a smile, just stared intently at me. Then,
once again, he asked, Do you know where Steve Korwald is?
Im sorry. I have no idea. He left without telling me where
he was going.
The captain kept eying me, studying me. The translator did the same. There
was a long silence. Then the captain gave a shrug, put down his pen and
said, All right, you can go. Just make sure to call us if you hear
anything from Mr Korwald.
Ill do that, I said. You have my promise.
* * *
next few days, the Greek police arrested every member of the IOS sales
force in Athens-everyone but Steve and Spyros. Much later I learned
that they had managed to sneak out of Greece aboard a friends yacht,
disguised as women.
(End of Part One; Part Two will appear in the Sept/Oct issue of lively-arts.com)