Martin Dickson’s pick of the week

It has been a week in which our digging deep into running stories – and  displaying  the results big – has paid huge dividends. We have had superb coverage of the fall of John Thain and the Madoff and Satyam scandals.

Greg Farrell continued his fantastic form on the downfall of John Thain. He followed up his giant scoop on Merrill Lynch’s accelerated bonuses with a front-page exclusive (written with Francesco Guerrera) on Bank of America’s involvement in the decision to award billions to Merrill bankers as losses were mounting and he had another scoop with John Thain being subpoenaed as part of an investigation by  the New York attorney-general. He also spent the weekend writing a  rivetting Analysis page for Monday, with Henny Sender adding important detail. Excellent reporting – and strong editing from Gordon Cramb, Gary Silverman and Brian Groom.

Michael Mackenzie and Aline van Duyn  followed up with a timely analysis of who knew what and  when about Merill’s deteriorating finances. Greg had a good online scoop with BofA deferring bonuses to its own, infuriated staff and ended the week with a Man in the News that gave a real insight into Ken Lewis’ staying power. Meanwhile,  Lex’s defence of  Lewis went deliciously against the consensus.

On Madoff, Victor Mallet and Jo Chung combined on an internet scoop saying Santander was looking to compensate customers who had lost money with Bernie, while Brooke Masters and Henny Sender (who was officially on vacation) combined on a scoop revealing that the National Bank of Kuwait was reimbursing customers who lost money with Madoff.
The Analysis page again scored with a superb  exploration of Bernie’s last month – a tale of outward sangfroid and inner scramble for cash. It was an example of great teamwork and made a compelling read, full of  original reporting, telling detail and colour. Many thanks to Brooke Masters for leading the project and to everyone who contributed: Jeremy Grant, Jo Chung, Peggy Hollinger, Shari Daneshkhu, Victor Mallet, David Gelles, Deborah Brewster, Haig Simonian and James Mackintosh.

And thanks to Freddie Studemann for ushering it into the page and also overseeing a well-judged compilation of extracts from George Soros’ latest edition of his latest book. This was a huge hit on the web and a great complementary piece to Chrystia Freeland’s beautifully written profile of Soros in the magazine. Completing a great week for the Analysis page were strong pieces by Simeon Kerr on the mounting problems of Dubai, George Parker on the mounting problems of Gordon Brown and John Thornhill’s lucid and provoking analysis of the shortcomings of GDP as a yardstick.

On Satyam,  Joe Leahy has been way out in front of the competition ever since the scandal broke and he did it again this week with an excellent page explaining how  Raju pulled off his fraud- and why the analysts did not notice. And he followed this up with exclusive details of the prosecutor’s case.

Jenn Hughes, meanwhile, wrote a strong and highly topical accountancy column on the legal horrors mounting for the world’s auditing firms. Jo Chung delivered an ahead-of-the-curve scene noting the large number of Ponzi schemes that have come undone during the financial crisis. Krishna Guha combined with Francesco Guerrera on a front-page US splash that marked a moment in history: Tim Geithner’s decision to push Citigroup, a leading recipient of government aid, to scrap plans to complete a purchase of a $50m executive jet.

Apart from the big three scandals, we have had a host of great scoops this week, including : Ed Crooks and Fiona Harvey on funding doubts for UK giant wind farm project, Lina Saigol and Julie Macintosh with full terms of  the Pfizer-Wyeth deal; Beth Rigby and Kate Burgess on Comet demanding money from suppliers for shop floor displays; Jim Pickard and Fiona Harvey on the head of UK environment agency saying the third Heathrow runway a big mistake; James Mackintosh on how a hedge fund made £270m shorting RBS; Brooke Masters on Iceland’s largest remaining listed bank trying to move to London; Neil Hume, Rebecca Bream, Kate Burgess,Lina Saigol  and Mick Kavanagh on the Xstrata rights issue and its controversial aftermath; Mick Kavanagh on Cookson’s rights issue; Jean Eaglesham on Meryvn King rebuffing Mandelson’s attempt to get support for carmakers from special banking liquidity scheme;Francesco Guerrera, Julie Macintosh and Richard Milne on Dow Chemical cutting its dividend; Alex Barker and Nick Timmins on how the UK government’s welfare-to-work programme  is failing;Alan Beattie on IMF wrangling over its approach to the Chinese currency; and in Saturday’s paper Ed Crooks and Kate Burgess had an excellent frontpager and analysis of tensions over the identity of BP’s next chairman. Jean Eaglesham and Jim Pickard produced a string of revelations about the conflicts of interest among members of the House of Lords – and we had a hilarious Saturday leader suggesting seats in the house should simply be auctioned off.

We have had some great recession-watch reporting this week, ranging from the macro big picture stuff readers need to make sense of what is happening to the micro details that impinge on businesses. Mure Dickie gave a strong analysis of Japan’s problems in Saturday’s paper, while Robin Harding and Michiyo Nakamoto reported well on  a slew of awful results from banks and tech companies. Lindsay Whipp pointed up a further Japanese problem in a scoop interview with Atsushi Saito, chief executive of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, who warned that banks faced a collapse on the scale of the early 1990s because of their webs of sharesholdings in non-financial companies.

In the UK Andy Bounds and Chris Tighe produced a powerful analysis of ports being hit by changes in government  tax policy; Sarah O’Connor gave a detailed case study into how one UK retailer – Focus DIY- was  coping with effects of the crunch and  Kiran Stacey wrote a small but punchy sidebar on invoice financing. Jenn Hughes explained the delicate issues surrounding the language auditors will be using  in annual reports.

Other strong pieces of crunch analysis included Ed Luce on  congressional opposition to Obama’s stimulus package; Javier Blas on how countries struggling to get credit are reverting to barter; and Nicole Bullock and Anousha Sakoui on  the problems of  bankrupt companies getting debtor in possession financing. Peter Marsh wrote a very original piece on the  Alpine ring of European manufacturers and how to survive the crunch.

Beyond the credit crunch,  Anna Fifield and Tobias Buck reported powerfully on the dire financial situation inside the Gaza strip; Matt Garrahan had a cutting-edge interview with MySpace founder Chris DeWolfe and Ben Hall talked to  the man behind the French day of rage. Rosie Blau turned round a nice obit on John Updike in double-quick time and followed up with an authoritative leader in praise of the great man. Jonathan Moules wrote an interesting Business Life profile of angel Andrew Rickman.

Our Davos team was on strong form, even if the event itself was rather sour, with strong roundups of the major issues and blogs from  Chris Giles, Gillian Tett, Peter Thal Larsen, Gideon Rachman , John Gapper and Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson.

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