Simanaitis Says

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THE SWINDLING PRESIDENTE has a timely ring to it, but note that final “e.” It’s a female president that Janet Flanner described in The New Yorker, August 19, 1939, and in this magazine’s TNY Classic retroactively posted online.

Tidbits concerning French swindler extraordinaire Marthe Hanau are many, as gleaned here in Part 1 yesterday and Part 2 today.  

Marthe’s Con. In 1925, Marthe Hanau found her metier in publishing Gazette du Franc, a tipster sheet that evolved to recommending shell companies of her own and friends’ devising. Her ex-husband (and inseparable pal) Lazare Bloch helped too. 

Flanner wrote that along with “a picture of Mussolini, dedicated to ‘Il mio amico, Bloch,’… the Gazette also included announcements of Hanau’s projects—her Consortium Francais, Société des Valeurs, Ile-de-France real estate, Midi golf courses on abandoned farms, all offered with the pledge, believe it or not, that they would not be permitted to pay dividends of more than forty per cent.”

My italics.

Image from

By 1928, Marthe had 450 employees at her office, plus another 175 agents operating throughout France. As well as, Flanner noted, “a job for her ex-husband which gave him, among other things, 7500 francs weekly for cigar money. She paid herself 150,000 francs a month. Marthe Hanau had become la Présidente of the Compagnie Générale Financière et Foncière.”

To put her self esteem in perspective, 150,000 francs was worth about $6000 in 1928, around $90,000 in today’s dollar.

Paralleling Ponzi. Of course, it was a giant pyramid scheme, in which earlier investors were paid the money coming in from later ones.

“Her customers,” Flanner wrote, “were principally the clergy, widows, retired military fogies, school teachers, and small-town shopkeepers. Her conversation, whether with a customer in her office or with her Bourse touts at a Montmartre inn table, was a swift alto combination of swearwords, salty repartee, unbalanced invention, and unvarnished common sense.”

Flanner wrote, “Savings banks reported enormous withdrawals; it was rumored that six hundred thousand million francs had been turned over to la Présidente for speculation.”

Unlike Egyptian Pyramids…. “On December 3, 1928,” Flanner recounted, “a special Cabinet meeting was held to decide what to do with the woman. It was done the next day. A year after Premier Poincaré had given Hanau his photograph in the interests of world peace, he made war on her by having her arrested. She was locked in St. Lazare Prison, accused of swindling, abuse of confidence, and infraction of corporation laws. Bloch was lodged in La Santé Prison as her accomplice…”

According to Wikipedia, “The preliminary trial began 15 months later. Hanau protested that the court did not understand financial business, that she could return all the money and that she should be released on bail.  When court denied the bail, she went on a hunger strike.”

“Three weeks later,” WIkipedia continues, “Hanau was moved to the hôpital Cochin in Paris, where she was forcibly fed. When she was left alone, she made a rope out of bedsheets, climbed out of the window and returned to St. Lazare prison.

Image of Marthe Hanau in 1935; she died by her own hand that year.

Marthe revealed names of all her bribed politicians, which caused yet another scandal. Later when she was released, she published a tell-all on the shady side of French financial markets and included a leaked Sureté file. She refused to reveal her source of the file and ended up back in stir. 

Flanner noted near the end of The New Yorker article, “Though they were to discuss her in detail in the courts for the next twenty-seven months, it took the state’s financial experts only an hour in the Hanau offices the next morning to see that she was a crook.”

Hmm…. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020 

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