The De Lorean case

Cars, drugs, unemployment - three characteristic issues of the day are brought together in the case of John De Lorean. Is this case itself somehow characteristic of the times - or a bizarre aberration? Certainly it contains enough warning signals to rouse government, industry, and individuals not to lend themselves to its repetition.

Perhaps a generation raised on TV series about melodramatic business machinations would not be surprised at the plot: A jet-set tycoon asks for public money to set up factories in jobless areas - and then winds up indicted for cocaine dealings allegedly to save such a factory. But this is not TV.

Mr. De Lorean was reportedly turned down elsewhere, but his car factory was accepted in Northern Ireland. Eventually Britain refused any more public money for it. The next thing the world knew, he was in jail and then out on $10 million bail under indictment for conspiring to possess and distribute cocaine. He is supposed to have been video-taped with a bag of the drug on his lap, saying he would use the profits to rescue his firm.

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If this is so, what an image it is of the distorted morality under which legitimacy and illegitimacy now rub shoulders. The need is evident for the new efforts in the United States and Europe to get at the organized crime that launders profits from illegal activities through legal businesses.

But the challenge goes beyond organized crime. What has to be guarded against is a widespread lapse into the notion that it's all just business. What you lose on cars, for example, you make up on drugs. When it comes to cocaine, the temptation may be increased by the sadly growing social acceptance of the drug. The old bootlegger's argument returns: if I don't sell it someone else will.

The full facts of the De Lorean case will be welcome. Exactly what happened, and how could it happen? There should be touchstones here for institutions and individuals testing whether they are part of the problem or part of the solution in preserving legitimate business from its demoralized counterfeit.

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