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Meet Larry Summers’s Ex-Boss, a Billionaire with a Blood Feud

If you judge a person by the company they keep, then Obama's top economic advisor has some serious splainin' to do.

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If you do not respect the very word given to your mother, then what is left in life?’’ [Anil] asked rhetorically.

At one stage of the conversation, Anil said the family dispute over gas was affecting his immediate family. “Tina (his wife) and Anmol (his elder son) were present during my speech (at the recent RNRL AGM). They so were so emotionally distraught they simply could not hold back their tears. When I reached home, my younger son Anshul was in tears when he saw me.’’

Asked about his accusations against oil minister Murli Deora, and why he would favour Mukesh when he was close to the entire family, Anil said, “I have known Murli uncle and Hema aunty (Deora’s wife) and their sons Mukul and Milind for several decades…almost my entire life. But more on his relationship with Mukeshbhai and with me perhaps some other time.’’

It’s quite a family. And Larry Summers, the man who in charge of America’s economy, is tight with Mukesh Ambani, the older and scarier of the two monster brothers. They’ve been Davosing together for years, and once Summers left Harvard, Mukesh offered him one of many sweet “board member” deals.

What we know is that last year, Mukesh paid Summers $187,000 to sit on the Reliance Industries Advisory Board–one of those joke committees companies set up as a way to advertise their Solid Connections -- and to win favors with powerful players. Why would Mukesh, a notoriously stingy billionaire, the object of a recent Daily Telegraph article, “Where Are India’s Great Philanthropists?” and criticism by no less than Sonia Ghandi -- why would a guy like that pay Summers nearly $200k for doing nothing?

Reliance offered up a few explanations to reporters this year when Summers’ deal was first disclosed: they said that Summers had sat on Mukesh’s advisory board for several years (raising further questions that have never been answered), and moreover, Summers also served on another Mukesh star-studded project last year, the Reliance Innovation Leadership Council. Which is interesting because the head of that council that Summers sat on, Dr. Raghunath Anant Mashelkar, had just been forced to resign in disgrace in 2007 from an Indian patents committee after being accused of plagiarism and, worse, of doing the bidding of multinational drug companies, ensuring they’d make huge profits in India at the expense of the country’s hundreds of millions of poor and struggling citizens. So in effect, Larry Summers was hired by billionaire oligarch Mukesh to serve under another of Mukesh’s paid economic saboteurs—a sleazy, disgraced tool of the health care industry.

As to why Mukesh chose to lavish Larry with so much money for so little work, the answer may come from a New York Times profile on Mukesh Ambani, published last summer:

Although rumors that it actively engages in bribery swirl around Reliance, Mr. Ambani says it has never paid a bribe or broken a rule. “These are all fables,” he says, dismissing the rumors.

But he concedes that there are indirect ways for Reliance to curry favor. Although he says Reliance “never” pays the tuitions of bureaucrats’ children, he also acknowledges that foundations controlled by or affiliated with Reliance sometimes have. [bold mine--M.A.]

Some foundation would have given some scholarship maybe, but that’s all out in the public domain,” he says.

In interviews, two former Reliance employees and other close associates of Mr. Ambani, all of whom requested anonymity because they were afraid of jeopardizing relationships with him, say the company also routinely engages in political lobbying and covert monitoring to gain a leg up on its rivals. [bold mine--M.A.]

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