It didn't take long for the feds to get their hands on Samuel Israel III after he faked his death on the Bear Mountain Bridge just north of New York City. Israel, a former hedge fund manager sentenced to 20 years in prison for defrauding $400 million from investors, just walked into a Southwick, Mass., police station in July after a month on the run. Other white-collar thieves have proved much harder to catch.
White-collar crime is serious business, and some fraudsters are able to elude facing the consequences of their actions. Commodities trader Marc Rich fled the US for Switzerland in the 1980s to avoid tax evasion charges and an allegation of illegally doing business with Iran. He will never be brought to justice after securing a pardon from President Bill Clinton.
Robert Vesco bounced around Latin America for more than 30 years, managing to evade, among other things, US securities charges for stealing $200 million. He did get imprisoned in Cuba in 1996 and is believed to have died there last year.
Now a new breed of financial fugitives is on the run, epitomized by Jacob "Kobi" Alexander, the stock scammer who is currently living well in Namibia. Many white-collar fugitives, like Russian Boris Berezovsky, are controversial because the charges against them are believed by some to be driven more by politics than anything else. Either way, financial fugitives can live free and prosper if they are smart, like Ghaith Pharaon, the wealthy Saudi wanted by the FBI for 17 years.
"These individuals show high intelligence and tend to put together very complex schemes," says Sharon Ormsby, the Federal Bureau of Investigations' financial crimes section chief. "They understand international markets--some have multiple passports--and are familiar with the laws."
Pharaon was indicted for fraud charges by the US government in 1991 for his alleged role in the mammoth collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. A large shareholder of BCCI, Pharaon was accused of being a frontman for unlawful purchases of American banks. The Federal Reserve fined Pharaon $37 million for his role in secretly taking over banks, and the Harvard University graduate lost his legal challenge of that fine.
The world's richest tax cheats
Still, Pharaon has had little trouble operating his business empire, which includes a luxury resort hotel in Jordan and the Attock Group, made up of refinery and cement companies in Pakistan. Attock Refinery was even able to snag an $80 million contract from the US government, ABC News reported in June.
The members of our list of white-collar fugitives have followed different paths. Chinese financial fugitives have made a bee-line for Canada, taking advantage of liberal entry rules and refugee laws. Lai Changxing is wanted in China for allegedly masterminding a $6 billion fraud, while Chinese banker Gao Shan is on the hook for allegedly embezzling $150 million. Both men are living relatively unencumbered lives in the Vancouver area.
London also seems to be a destination of choice; it's currently home to Berezovsky and former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who recently fled to avoid accusations of financial crimes back home. American telemarketing scammer James Eberhart is just sailing round the world in his boat.
Forbes.com consulted with law enforcement agencies to identify the top 10 most wanted white-collar fugitives, who are listed in no significant order.
Distinguishing white-collar criminals from organised criminals remains challenging 69 years after sociologist Edwin Sutherland coined the term "white-collar crime." But we tried to stick to Sutherland's definition of "a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation." All of the Forbes.com top 10 white-collar fugitives are criminally indicted, convicted or have arrest warrants outstanding--and are wanted by a national government.