Absolutely Fabulist
February 8, 2024 1:09 AM   Subscribe

One reason that it’s so difficult to know what happened at Riverwalk is that Zac was by no means the only impostor in the apartment that night. Dave Sharma was a leg-breaker posing as a benevolent mentor. Akbar Shamji was a dilettante posing as an accomplished entrepreneur. And Zac was just a London kid, posing as the son of an oligarch. Each was pretending to be something he wasn’t, and each was caught up in the glitzy, mercenary aspirational culture of modern London. from A Teen’s Fatal Plunge Into the London Underworld by Patrick Radden Keefe [The New Yorker; ungated] [CW: Death of a teenager, possible suicide]
posted by chavenet (16 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
At first I thought, "I don't want to read a depressing article," but then I realized it was a Patrick Radden Keefe depressing article, and now I will absolutely read it.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:27 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]


Jesus, that's a hard read.

I have kids that age and I am learning to let them make their own decisions -- some successful, some not -- and thankfully none of them have had fatal consequences.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:54 AM on February 8 [6 favorites]


I read this the other day, and it is really sad and unfortunate. My take is that the kid was not trying to commit suicide but to escape Dave Sharma when he jumped.

The parents seem like genuinely nice people, and good parents, but I find it so bizarre that they were OK with their 19 year old son was hanging out with middle-aged "businessmen" and talking about making international deals. Must be a very different social world than anything I grew up in.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:10 AM on February 8 [9 favorites]


It sounds like they considered it mostly more of his wild stories. The part about the "businessman" and the staying at an expensive flat alone are harder to reconcile, though. I bet if he'd been a girl, they'd have been a little more interventionist, even at 19, but who thinks their kid is going to get caught up in a scam with a bunch of oligarch-adjacents? That's not on even the most paranoid ordinary parent's radar, I think. They probably thought even those points were misrepresentations ("he's just housesitting for someone"). It sounds like he did not have much in the way of character and his parents knew it. It's tragic that led where it did.

(Still, they were able to send an apparently undistinguished kid to a school that charges nearly L37,000 for weekly boarding this year, and Maida Vale isn't cheap even if it isn't Oligarch Row, so this "small financial services firm" must be fairly successful.)
posted by praemunire at 9:26 AM on February 8 [6 favorites]


The beginning of this story made me think about Defoe's Roxana and the Arabian Nights--stories about the power and danger of self-reinvention in the anonymity of giant cities like London, Baghdad, and Cairo. (The English vogue for the Arabian Nights and Defoe's novels both come at the turn of the eighteenth century, when London starts to become the global financial capital it remains today.) And then what do you know one of the characters plays an Arabian Nights character at Cambridge en route to managing a money-laundering theater in London. What a world.
posted by sy at 9:37 AM on February 8 [10 favorites]


wow, what a story. I feel so sad for Zac's parents, who seem to come across as good and loving parents.

has anyone here read:

Butler to the World: How Britain Helps the World’s Worst People Launder Money, Commit Crimes, and Get Away with Anything by Oliver Bullough? because it sounds like a very interesting read...
posted by supermedusa at 11:15 AM on February 8 [5 favorites]


I also think this is a good example of how, if you don't already have a solid foundation of personal values, being around people with a lot more money than you can erode your character. Having been at both boarding school and college with people much better off than me, I've felt the pressure, and if I'd been closer to being popular, probably even more so. It sounds like his parents, being affluent themselves, didn't necessarily think through the implications of sending him to a school with many very rich kids (Mill Hill even has a separate "international" program, presumably for kids who could not meet English academic standards in a regular classroom). That's actually something you'd want to consistently talk through with your kid, I think. ("How do you feel knowing that Ivan can have a limousine take him anywhere he wants? What do you think when you see your classmates with $20,000 watches on their wrists?") You don't think the consequence of not doing so would be him getting killed, but when you see how he's fallen in love with the joys of lying...you should be worried.
posted by praemunire at 12:01 PM on February 8 [8 favorites]


It sounds like he did not have much in the way of character and his parents knew it.

that's an awfully uncharitable assessment of a nineteen-year-old. i mean, i don't think i had any recognizable character until my thirties. if then.

in any event, this was a great article and a sad, dumb murder. i wonder if this piece will prompt any action from london police, since media coverage seems to be one of the few things that occasionally does.
posted by ZaphodB at 12:14 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]


I mean, did you lie constantly and gratuitously to everyone around you, to the point that when you, a 19-year-old, told your parents you were involved in big business deals with rich men, rather than being concerned that you might be getting mixed up in something shady, they just assumed you were lying directly to their faces for a prolonged period? He didn't deserve what happened to him by any means, but this kid was showing great promise to end up a scamster of some kind, especially since his parents didn't seem to know how to deal with it.

The theory of attempted escape makes some sense to me. The cops' conduct does not.
posted by praemunire at 12:29 PM on February 8 [6 favorites]


has anyone here read:

Butler to the World: How Britain Helps the World’s Worst People Launder Money, Commit Crimes, and Get Away with Anything by Oliver Bullough?


Not yet, but I did read the "prequel," Moneyland and it is very good. HIghly recommended.
posted by chavenet at 12:30 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]


Doubtless his parents thought that being sent to a school like that would help him in his adult life, but he probably didn't pick up much more than the ineluctable advantages of nepotism: "peers" really being other kids who were to the manner born and would never have to work that hard to wield outsized influence on the world.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:36 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]


Finished the piece, and wanted to pull out this great bit: "To launder cash—or a reputation—is to mingle the dirty with the clean, and one consequence of London’s new identity as a twenty-four-hour laundromat is that the city is full of crooks with pretensions to legitimacy and businessmen who seem a little crooked." It is absolutely no surprise that Shamji moved on first to crypto, then to something allegedly and vaguely to do with AI.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:11 PM on February 8 [8 favorites]


Mill Hill even has a separate "international" program, presumably for kids who could not meet English academic standards in a regular classroom
I send my kids to an international school because … they aren’t “native” to the school system where we moved. There are a lot of hidden assumptions in most school systems, and many schools aren’t equipped to help students from different educational contexts integrate. It’s not scummy to find a place that can effectively support the transition, especially if English is a second or third language.


Bag on billionaires and their spoiled kids all you want, leave the kids of the Japanese auto engineers out of it.
posted by JoeBlubaugh at 3:56 AM on February 9 [5 favorites]


The theory of attempted escape makes some sense to me. The cops' conduct does not.

You know, I don't read much British fiction after 1800, but as a successor to Defoe's early modern con artists and courtesans I wonder if "bumbling Scotland Yard needs a private detective to reconstruct the facts of the crime and finger the culprit" is a premise that might also have literary possibilities. Say a "scandal" in which Bohemian London and the expatriated wealth of central and eastern Europe are on a collision course.
posted by sy at 5:54 AM on February 9 [5 favorites]


I send my kids to an international school because … they aren’t “native” to the school system where we moved.

This is a day/boarding program for kids that anticipates that their parents likely won't be resident in the UK and charges L42,000 a year for the weekday-only boarding option. It plainly caters to very wealthy foreign parents who want their kids off their hands but making English connections and with an English school name on their CV (probably parents who don't want to pay for Le Rosey or think it's not safe enough). I'm unfamiliar with the salary of a humble Japanese auto engineer, but I doubt they could carry these fees. If you were unaware of the existence of this particular flavor of international program/school, all you had to do was look at the website, which makes it pretty obvious.
posted by praemunire at 8:02 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]


I think the fact he did pal around with children of oligarchs muddled the water for the parents a lot. Even in much lower-moneyed circles "I gotta get away from my parents, can I sleep over while your flatmate is on that backpacking trip" is a thing. Plus getting introduced to people's parents and their business circles is exactly the point of these schools.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 8:29 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]


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