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The last days of a man O Robert Kissel is remembered as a hard-working banker who adored his children and who wanted desperately to save his failing marriage, Barclay Crawford reports n Sunday, Novem- ber 2, 2003, Robert Kissel must have felt the weight of the world on his shoul- ders. Only those close to the cou- ple knew of the problems in the marriage, of wife Nancy’s affair, and Robert’s decision to talk to Nancy about get- ting a divorce that evening. But on top of this he was preparing a bid for the biggest buyout of bad debt in Asian financial history. Since mid-Sep- tember Robert had been work- ing 14-hour days preparing to make a bid for $14 billion in non- performing loans from the Bank of China, which involved careful analysis of thousands of non-per- forming loans. The competition was hot. This deal was considered a seminal mo- ment in an industry that had blos- somed in the wake of Asia’s finan- cial crisis in 1997 and 1998. And everyone wanted a slice. “It was historic. This was truly the moment, and we all wanted to be there,” said Joseph Draper, head of Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Ci- tigroup, Standard Chartered and Morgan Stanley and various legal teams found themselves in Lan Kwai Fong looking for a quiet beer. They gravitated to Stormy Weath- er, a bar many now choose not to visit. itic comments made by outgoing Malaysian prime minister Maha- thir Mohamad at his resignation speech, and Robert Kissel featured prominently in the discussion. His Jewish identity was important and he wanted his children to grow up proud of their heritage. Asia Principal Investments with Citigroup. Robert Kissel was portrayed in court as a debonair banker who loved the power, money and status of his job. But according to his col- leagues, he was far more a humble, “jeans and T-shirt guy” who was more of a number cruncher with a sharp brain and an eye for detail than one renowned for long lunches and flashy suits. “Whether you spoke to Rob at 3am or mid- day, he was always sharp as a nail,” one colleague said. It was on this occasion that Robert Kissel chose to tell many that his marriage was over, that his wife was having an affair and he was planning a divorce. The United Jewish Congrega- tion in Hong Kong is a powerful or- ganisation, so it was no surprise that some of the key players in the Bank of China deal found them- selves talking shop while waiting for their children to finish Sunday school. The moment he revealed the end of his marriage was described by one senior banker as “climac- tic”, uttered quietly by a man with- out colour in his face, who had tried his best against insurmount- able odds, but was now finally throwing in the towel. Robert had to be. In his line of work, one bad decision, one small factor of a loan not properly ana- lysed, meant your company could lose millions, leaving your profes- sional reputation in ruins. Hong Kong’s distressed-debt community is largely American, experts who developed their skills around the world and moved to Hong Kong to exploit the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and 1998, as Robert Kissel had done. Nancy: always the glamour blonde He would not even challenge for custody of his beloved children as long as he was given access. At 9.30am that Sunday, Robert was as sharp as ever. The family was at the United Jewish Congre- gation. Nancy Kissel, far from the dour character slumped in the stand of the High Court during her three-month trial, was, as ever, the picture of blonde glamour and ele- gance – with her trademark dark sunglasses. Robert and Clifford Chance lawyer Jonathan Zonis, who was working with Merrill Lynch on parts of the deal, found themselves talking to Jonathan Ross, from the Bank of China, and Ian Johnson, of Allen and Overy, who was working for another competitor. had provided him with, outlining some problems with the docu- mentation. However, the pressure of the Bank of China bid put the revela- tion firmly in the backs of the minds of those who were there. Sunday school ended. Robert, always the family man, stopped talking to hug his children, whom he adored. Those children were described by family and friends as warm and lively, but also “high- maintenance”. On the Sunday night, the bid- ders called each other, wishing the best for the following week. “Rob was saying the field of dis- tressed debt was more competitive than it had ever been and at the same time, he was perhaps more open about the transaction than I thought he would have been,” Mr Zonis recalled. Robert did not answer his phone or return calls, but they knew he would be dealing with a much more important issue – the end of his marriage. She was, as usual, loud and full of energy, and looking great with a $5,000 cut and colour from the De- but hair salon in the luxury Park- view estate where the family lived. One mother close to the family said Nancy was often oblivious to some of their faults – especially son Reis, whose behaviour was con- cerning teachers at Parkview Inter- national Primary School. Then, on the Tuesday of the bid, Robert Kissel was not there – only David Noh, who made ex- cuses for him. On the surface, they could have been the perfect family. But be- neath the surface was the pressure of a failed marriage, disruptive children and the debt deal that The men were surprised about how frankly Robert, normally the consummate professional, dis- cussed the deal, even outlining some of the financial detail of the bid. He gave Ross a “hard time” about the information the bank In the last week of October 2003, the bid for Bank of China was But again, those close knew there were serious problems at home, and accepted Nancy’s ver- supposed to take place. had would have cemented Robert at the top of his game. Rabbi Lee Diamond led a discussion on some anti-Sem- it But been delayed, and sion – that her husband was “very, very sick”. many of working those for

“Kissel was portrayed in court as a debonair banker, who loved the power, money and status of his job. But according to his colleagues, he was far more humble, “a jeans and T-shirt guy” who was more of a number cruncher with a

sharp brain and an eye for detail than one renowned for long lunches and flashy suits”

The man who was always “sharp as a nail” began to wear at the edges.

Photos: SCMP Pictures

Traumatised fathers left to

Robert Kissel (left) and his father William laugh during a skiing trip to Whistler in 2002.

Photo: SCMP Picture

Late one night in early November, 2003, William Kissel had a weird dream in his home in Florida. In his dream, he saw Robert, his second son, lying on a red-brownish orien- tal rug in his bedroom.

Getting ready for a party at 6pm on November 6, he received a call from his elder son, Andrew Kissel, who told him that Robert was dead. He fainted, and found himself in a hospital the next morning.

Doctors ordered a guard to stand outside his ward to make sure that he did not take his own life. But Mr Kissel told them he must leave right away to catch a plane to Hong Kong to deal with the aftermath of his son’s shocking death.

He learned later that his daugh- ter-in-law, Nancy, had been ar- rested for murdering his son, whose body had been found rolled up in a red-brown rug.

Eighteen months later, the 77- year-old flew to Hong Kong again, prepared to confront every grue- some detail of the murder.

Helping their three grandchildren cope and making sure they are looked after is now the priority, writes Polly Hui

“It’s as difficult now as it was then. For one-and-a-half years, one lived in anticipation of closure. But when I think about closure, I think about my son lying in the ground, his family wrecked,” Mr Kissel told the South China Morn- ing Post. “Why did I come? Because I owe it to my son, I owe it to my grandchildren and myself. I have never run away from a battle.”

The father was angry and upset about Nancy Kissel’s “unfounded and crazy allegations in court of sodomy and cocaine abuse” by his son. “She is a pathological liar,” he said. Had Robert ever used co- caine, he would not have lasted five minutes in Merrill Lynch or Gold- man Sachs, he said.

He said Nancy had not only killed his son but her lies had killed her three children, who would find news reports of the case on web-

sites and become the potential subject of gossip from the people around them.

“It’s all about greed. Rob was prepared to have a divorce and give her a lot of money. But she wanted all the US$18 million [worth of the deceased’s estate] and to go to that Michael Del Priore with her kids,” he said.

Mr Kissel said he had taken notes in court, otherwise “I would fly through the roof”.

Towards the end of the trial, Alexander King SC, for the defence, complained to the judge that Mr Kissel was often shaking his head in the public gallery when witnesses were being questioned. After the hearing was adjourned, the father walked up to the lawyer and said: “Mr King, I was just falling asleep when you were talking.”

He could not look at the pillows

and bedcovers soaked with his son’s blood as they were paraded in the courtroom.

Mr Kissel, who ran a company manufacturing toner for photo- copying machines in New Jersey before retiring, said his son had es- tablished his own circle after get- ting married. “Sometimes our cir- cles interacted, sometimes they went apart,” he said, adding that his son defended his wife at all times.

He described Robert as “the person I would want to be” – a sweet, dear father, a great athlete and a universalist who loved life.

“You know what, he actually loved Nancy,” he said. “There was something charismatic that Rob saw in Nancy. But he was a fool.”

The circumstances leading to his son’s death were bizarre, he said.

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