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Monthly Archives: October 2012

When we hit our first lull in the conversation, I try to bridge it by asking you about the two years you lived in Boulder, Colo.

“How did you know I lived in Boulder?” you ask, darty-eyed.

“I Googled you last night. I’m sorry.”

“No, no. I’m, uh?… I’m flattered?”

You are? Which is what I was hoping for? But suddenly the tiniest shred of doubt is implied by all the tonal upticks.

“It’s perfectly natural and almost always appropriate,” said Kate Fox, a social anthropologist, about the practice of Googling social or business contacts before getting together with them.

“Obviously, one is always going to have to be discreet when talking about what you’ve found,” said Ms. Fox, a director of the Social Issues Research Center in Oxford, England. “But our brains haven’t changed since the Stone Age, and humans are designed to live in small groups in which everyone knows one another. Googling is an attempt to recreate a primeval, preindustrial pattern of interaction.”

But by the same token, doesn’t taking this shortcut to a primeval, preindustrial pattern of recognition sometimes rob encounters of their inherent mystery? The song is called “Getting to Know You,” not “I’ve Already Researched You.” Sometimes it’s better not to pore over the dossier handed to us, even if it comes from a natural blonde with the State Department in a sweater set and pearls.

Worse, sometimes our online research lands us in thickets. Tina Jordan, an executive in book publishing who has the same name as a former girlfriend of Hugh Hefner, said, “I typically tell any blind dates before I meet them that they probably shouldn’t Google my name, otherwise they’ll be sorely disappointed when they meet me.”

Masami Takahashi, an associate professor of psychology at Northeastern Illinois University, used to use Japanese characters for his name whenever he delivered papers at academic conferences in Japan, until a colleague who had Googled him pointed out that Mr. Takahashi shared the same name in Japanese as a pornographic-film star. Mr. Takahashi said, “Since then, I use only the English alphabet for my name.”

Indeed, to Google is often to create expectation. A friend of Dean Olsher, a public-radio host and a musician, wanted to set him up on a date with one of Mark Morris’s dancers this year. Mr. Olsher promptly went online and started swooning over a gorgeous portrait of the dancer by Annie Leibovitz. But on the evening that Mr. Olsher and his friend trooped to Brooklyn to see her perform and to meet her, Mr. Olsher’s friend became distracted and never engineered the fix-up.

The disappointed Mr. Olsher said: “I don’t regret Googling her at all. I’m so baffled by this idea that we’re not supposed to Google people. Why would there be a line? Like everyone else is allowed to know something but I’m not?”

 In business, the line described by Mr. Olsher barely exists, if at all, because Googling is expected. Job applicants who reveal their ignorance of the doings or leadership of the company they are interviewing with can expect to meet with no enthusiasm. “I always Google my prospective clients,” said Janet Montano, a real estate agent in Tampa, Fla. “The mug shots come right up on the top. ‘Not going to get in my car!’ ”

But Ms. Montano said she would never tell a potential homebuyer that she had Googled him. “It’s not very polite,” she said. “I don’t go there.” In one instance, she said, the search worked in a homebuyer’s favor. “It was someone who I probably wasn’t going to work with,” she said. “But then I checked him out and saw who he was.” When she learned he was a popular radio disc jockey, she realized he was a qualified buyer.

Henry Alford is a contributing writer to Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of “Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That? A Modern Guide to Manners.” Circa Now appears monthly.

Hot Doc said its version of the list matches the one that Christine Lagarde, then the French finance minister and now the head of the International Monetary Fund, had given her Greek counterpart in 2010 to help Greece crack down on rampant tax evasion as it was trying to steady its economy. The 2,059 people on the list are said to have had accounts in a Geneva branch of HSBC.

Questions about the handling of the original list reached a near frenzy in Athens last week as two former finance ministers were pressed to explain why the government appeared to have taken no action on the list. The subject has touched a nerve among average Greeks at a time when the Parliament is expected to vote on a new 13.5 billion euro austerity package that could further reduce their standards of living.

The publication of the list is likely to exacerbate Greeks’ anger that their political leaders might have been reluctant to investigate the business elite, with whom they often have close ties, even as middle- and lower-class Greeks have struggled with higher taxes and increasingly ardent tax collectors.

The magazine was careful to note that having an account at HSBC was not illegal or proof of evading Greek taxes, a point underscored by a spokesman for the Greek Finance Ministry. But the magazine suggested that Greek officials should check whether those on it had moved money into the accounts to escape paying taxes.

Hours after the magazine hit newsstands, Athens prosecutors issued a warrant for the arrest of Kostas Vaxevanis, the owner and editor of Hot Doc, “where names from the Lagarde list have been published,” the Athens police said in a statement on their Web site. They said he was sought on misdemeanor charges; the Greek media reported that the charges were related to violating the privacy of those on the list.

Mr. Vaxevanis, one of Greece’s most famous investigative journalists, said he was being wrongly targeted. “Instead of arresting the tax evaders and the ministers who had the list in their hands, they are trying to arrest the truth and free journalism,” he said in a telephone interview that was uploaded on the Internet and widely circulated.

The issue of the list has shaken the country for weeks, posing new challenges to the fragile three-way coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Above all, it put intense pressure on the Socialist party, a key member of the coalition, whose leader, Evangelos Venizelos, is one of two Socialist former finance ministers accused of not having acted on the information.

The finger pointing, likely to intensify with the list’s publication, is certain to distract Greek politicians during a week when European finance ministers are scheduled to discuss whether to release billions of euros in fresh financial aid. Greece’s lenders have long said that the country must crack down on tax evasion to be eligible for further infusions of cash.

According to Hot Doc, the list includes not only some in the government and businesspeople, but also actors, doctors, lawyers and architects. It also includes several women identified as housewives who the magazine said had moved large amounts of money to the HSBC accounts.

There was no immediate comment from Mr. Samaras, who was meeting with aides throughout the afternoon to discuss the new austerity measures demanded by Greece’s lenders.

Giorgos Voulgarakis, the speaker of the Parliament from Mr. Samaras’s center-right New Democracy party, denied having any overseas bank accounts and accused the magazine of mudslinging.

Hot Doc said it had been given the list by “one of the people who had received” it. Yannis Stournaras, the finance minister, sent a letter to his French counterpart several days ago asking for the original list, but so far the Greek official has not received a response, according to the ministry spokesman, who was not authorized to speak publicly. The aide said that the Greek Finance Ministry wants to be certain that it has the original list of names before investigating whether any tax evasion occurred. The magazine said it had called a sampling of account holders on its list to confirm that they had deposits in the Swiss bank. Citing privacy concerns for those on the list, Hot Doc said it had redacted how much money was said to be in each account, but added that some accounts were listed as containing as much as 500 million euros. The list dates to 2007.

The magazine also carried a long report on Mr. Voulgarakis. According to Hot Doc, the parliamentary speaker opened an account at HSBC in 2003 that was jointly managed by him, his wife and an offshore company based in Liberia.

The magazine said the deposits do not show up on Mr. Voulgarakis’s tax declarations.

Mr. Voulgarakis, a former government minister who was investigated but later exonerated in another high-profile corruption inquiry, issued a statement saying, “I declare categorically that neither my wife nor I have any offshore companies or foreign bank accounts.”

On Friday, the office of former Prime Minister George Papandreou denied claims that he had been aware of the list, after a member of the opposition Syriza party alleged that Mr. Papandreou had helped set up a meeting with the head of the Geneva HSBC branch in Geneva when he was in office.

Last week, former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou told lawmakers that he had asked Greece’s financial crimes unit to investigate about 20 Greek citizens thought to hold large deposits at the HSBC Geneva branch after French authorities forwarded him the list of names in October 2010.

But he said the Finance Ministry’s legal adviser had warned that the list was a problem because a HSBC employee had illegally leaked it.

A cross between Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, the company brags that its house brands have no artificial colors or trans fats, that two-thirds of its produce is grown locally and that its main distribution center is powered by a $13 million solar installation.

But in one crucial respect, Fresh & Easy is just like the vast majority of large American retailers: most employees work part-time, with its stores changing many of their workers’ schedules week to week.

At its store here, just east of San Diego, Shannon Hardin oversees seven self-checkout stations, usually by herself. Typically working shifts of five or six hours, she hops between stations — bagging groceries, approving alcohol purchases, explaining the checkout system to shoppers and urging customers to join the retailer’s loyalty program, all while watching for shoplifters.

“I like it. I’m a people person,” said Ms. Hardin, 50, who used to work as an office assistant at a construction company until times went bad.

But after nearly five years at Fresh & Easy, she remains a part-time worker despite her desire to work full-time. In fact, all 22 employees at her store are part-time except for the five managers.

She earns $10.90 an hour, and with workweeks averaging 28 hours, her yearly pay equals $16,500. “I can’t live on this,” said Ms. Hardin, who is single. “It’s almost impossible.”

While there have always been part-time workers, especially at restaurants and retailers, employers today rely on them far more than before as they seek to cut costs and align staffing to customer traffic. This trend has frustrated millions of Americans who want to work full-time, reducing their pay and benefits.

“Over the past two decades, many major retailers went from a quotient of 70 to 80 percent full-time to at least 70 percent part-time across the industry,” said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting firm.

No one has collected detailed data on part-time workers at the nation’s major retailers. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the retail and wholesale sector, with a total of 18.6 million jobs, has cut a million full-time jobs since 2006, while adding more than 500,000 part-time jobs.

Technology is speeding this transformation. In the past, part-timers might work the same schedule of four- or five-hour shifts every week. But workers’ schedules have become far less predictable and stable. Many retailers now use sophisticated software that tracks the flow of customers, allowing managers to assign just enough employees to handle the anticipated demand.

“Many employers now schedule shifts as short as two or three hours, while historically they may have scheduled eight-hour shifts,” said David Ossip, founder of Dayforce, a producer of scheduling software used by chains like Aéropostale and Pier One Imports.

Some employers even ask workers to come in at the last minute, and the workers risk losing their jobs or being assigned fewer hours in the future if they are unavailable.

The widening use of part-timers has been a bane to many workers, pushing many into poverty and forcing some onto food stamps and Medicaid. And with work schedules that change week to week, workers can find it hard to arrange child care, attend college or hold a second job, according to interviews with more than 40 part-time workers.

To be sure, many people prefer to work part time — for instance, college students eager for extra spending money and older people earning money for presents during the holiday season.

But in two leading industries — retailing and hospitality — the number of part-timers who would prefer to work full-time has jumped to 3.1 million, or two-and-a-half times the 2006 level, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In retailing alone, nearly 30 percent of part-timers want full-time jobs, up from 10.6 percent in 2006. The agency found that in the retail and wholesale sector, which includes hundreds of thousands of small stores that rely heavily on full-time workers, about 3 in 10 employees work part-time.

Retailers and restaurants use so many part-timers not only because it gives them more flexibility, but because it significantly cuts payroll costs.

I GREW up in Chevy Chase, Md., in a musical household. My mother sang and danced at Arena Stage in Washington, my brother played the trumpet, and my sister played the flute. When I was 10, a kid in the next cabin at summer camp had a pair of drumsticks and a practice pad that I thought were cool. I asked my parents to buy them for me, but I had studied and dropped both trumpet and piano, so my father made me earn half the money first.

In seventh grade, I got my first band job, playing at an eighth-grade party. The lead singer got into a fight with the guitar player and walked out, so it was an inauspicious start, but while still in junior high I went on to play at high school dances during the regular band’s breaks. I was cool at my junior high school for about a week after each dance.

I attended four colleges, including the Berklee College of Music, but never got a degree. My career kept getting in the way. In the last 40 years, I’ve played drums in every state, for artists like Billy Idol, Darlene Love and the Spencer Davis Group. I was also musical director for Lou Christie, rehearsing local musicians, when I was his drummer.

I’ve appeared at New York clubs including CBGB and the Bitter End. In the late 1980s, I played Carnegie Hall with Lesley Gore, backed by Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops. Afterward I ran into Howard Cosell backstage. He clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Nice job, son.” That was a highlight.

I’ve mostly been a sideman for hire, as opposed to a band member traveling with an artist. This brought challenges, like playing in front of thousands of people without the benefit of any rehearsal, sound check or sheet music. We had to be ready for anything. Occasionally, we didn’t even meet the performer until he went onstage and started the first song.

Once, some friends and I were sitting in the first row of a Hexagon variety show in Washington. Hexagon stages fund-raisers and donates to various charities. The show was about to start when we heard the conductor say that the drummer was sick and they’d have to do the show without him. I leaned over and asked if he needed a drummer. He said yes, so I climbed over the railing, sat down at the drums and played the show. When I went backstage at intermission, the dancers from the chorus line gave me a standing ovation.

Playing at the Royal Albert Hall in London with Lou Christie in 1993 was an honor, but the next night I played at a resort in England where you had to insert coins in the thermostat to get heat in the dressing room.

In 1992, I took a job with a music and entertainment company, contracting bands for concerts, and three years later I joined Ray Bloch Productions, an event and media production company, as an account executive. Ray Bloch, the orchestra leader on “The Ed Sullivan Show” for almost 25 years, had been the original owner. He died in 1982. I sold more than $1 million in bookings my first year. In 2000, I partnered with the next owner, and I bought him out two years later. Richard Bell has been my partner since 2007.

I still play occasionally, but I have a broader vista as a producer. That really hit home when we produced Time magazine’s 75th anniversary celebration at Radio City Music Hall, where I’d performed as a drummer. Our client base has broadened over time; we work for clients that range from charities to investment banks.

People assume I stopped drumming full time because my career didn’t work out, but I was actually a solvent drummer. I’m glad I got to do it, but after 15 years playing about 200 gigs a year, I wanted to tackle the next challenge.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

It had been nine months since I graduated from Denison University in Granville, Ohio, with a B.A. in gender studies and international studies, and I had already lived in Michigan; Washington, D.C.; Ohio; New Jersey; and now New York, doing internships and taking on short-term stints as a nanny. I wasn’t ready to go to graduate school, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career.

Throughout college, I had been reading and following the work of Courtney E. Martin, author of “Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists” and “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection Is Harming Young Women.” I loved her accessible writing about activism, feminism, freelancing and nontraditional faith. Thanks to online media, she had served as a kind of mentor-at-a-distance who both inspired me and calmed my career nerves. When I read her, I saw myself; if she could be so influential, there was hope for other big dreamers like me.

That’s why I e-mailed her when I was at such a loss in my career search. After introducing myself and mentioning one of her articles on freelancing, I wrote: “I can only imagine how busy you are and so I know this may be a big request, but if you could spare some time for coffee and some advice, I can’t tell you what it would mean to me. Without sounding overly adoring, I just hope that in 10 years I’ll have accomplished anything close to what you have, and the work that I’ve seen you create and been able to make happen for yourself (and others) has given me a glimpse of hope that I will be O.K. and I can have the big dreams that I do.”

Seventy-one minutes after I pressed “send,” a reply from Courtney landed in my in-box. While I had hoped to hear from her, I didn’t expect that she would have time for my questions, and certainly not for a same-night response. I e-mailed her back, and we arranged to have coffee the next week.

When we met, she hugged me. I rattled off my questions: How do you bring big ideas to life in this city? How do you remain authentic but also concisely answer when someone asks, “What kind of work are you looking for?” How do you not sound naïve when you say you want to change the world? What about grad school, and living off nonprofit salaries, and finding purpose? She sat, listened and reassured me. Our conversation cooled my nerves, and I left feeling lighter and more optimistic about the future.

A short time after our meeting, Courtney sent me another unexpected e-mail: “Can you meet Katie Orenstein, the founder of the OpEd Project, on Friday? She’s not hiring, but if you meet her you’ll be on her mind when she’s looking for someone.” The organization, which I had researched in the past and where Courtney teaches, aims to increase the diversity of voices we hear in the world. There is a focus on equality, on big change and on empowering people to understand the significance of their ideas and expertise. Its tag line is “Changing the world’s conversation.”

The next Friday, after a full day of nannying, I was sitting in the lobby of the OpEd Project in Manhattan. I met Katie and dove into a quick, 15-minute conversation that, unbeknown to me, turned into an interview. I assured her that no job was too big or too small for me, and she sat thinking for a minute. Then she said that she trusted Courtney’s recommendations, and that if I could successfully book a few plane tickets for her, I would be hired as her part-time assistant. I passed the test and was hired, and my part-time job became full time in June.

I FEEL lucky that, at 23, I look forward to work every day. I have a salary and benefits, lead a weekly conference call with the OpEd Project team, including Courtney, and work for an organization that aligns with my idealistic and big-picture vision.

To supplement my entry-level salary, I still baby-sit at night. But after a year of searching for “the right path,” I feel confident that there isn’t just one. What’s more important, I learned, is to practice and practice those half-court shots.

For two of the last three quarters, American households’ total outstanding borrowing on things like credit cards, mortgages and auto loans has increased after falling for 14 consecutive quarters before then. Some economists even see an end to the long, hard process of deleveraging — as they refer to the cutting of debt relative to income or the nation’s economic output. That process, they say, has been a central reason for the extraordinary sluggishness of the recovery.

“We’re at an inflection point,” said Kevin Logan, the chief United States economist for HSBC. “Debt is less of a burden” for households, he said.

Closely watched economic figures released Friday underscore households’ nascent sense of strength. Despite tepid growth and still-high unemployment, consumer confidence has soared to a five-year high, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan. And economic growth numbers for the third quarter showed household spending picking up pace as well.

The drop in overall debt is in no small part because of foreclosures, delinquencies and write-offs by lenders which are slowing but not stopping. But the struggle to pay down old debts might not prove such a drag on economic growth in the future.

“We’re not getting a tail wind. We’re losing a head wind,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, who said of the deleveraging process for households and businesses, “It’s basically over.”

Experts estimated that the overall level of debt, compared with income or economic output, would continue to fall for the next one to three years — with the earliest prediction for the end of deleveraging coming in mid-2013 and the latest at the end of 2015.

“By just about any metric, we’ve made a huge dent in a significant problem, but I don’t think we’re finished yet,” said Liz Ann Sonders, the chief investment strategist for Charles Schwab & Company. “The distinction is that deleveraging will no longer be a big drag on the economy, like in the first couple years after the crisis.”

In the run-up to the recession, American households took on trillions of dollars of debt that they could not easily afford, given tepid rates of wage growth. The collapse of the real-estate bubble and ravages of the recession have forced them to pay down or prompted lenders to write off more than $1 trillion of it, according to Federal Reserve data.

Still saddled with heavy debt burdens during the weak recovery, millions of American households cut back spending on food, cars and other goods. On top of that, relatively few families have been willing or able to take out loans or lines of credit. Thus, the proportion of household debt to personal income has fallen to its lowest level since the mid-2000s from its recessionary-era peak.

Now, with the economy more stable and interest rates at generational lows, Americans might finally feel more comfortable taking out a loan on a new car or putting money down on a mortgaged home. With their finances more in balance, workers might start spending less of their paychecks paying off old loans and more on leisure or household goods.

Given the importance of consumer spending to the American economy, those changes might translate into a more resilient economy, analysts said.

“Consumer spending still drives 65 to 70 percent of G.D.P. growth,” Susan Lund, the director of research at the McKinsey Global Institute, said. “When deleveraging is over and housing picks up a bit, those two factors are going to be strong engines for the United States economy.”

American households’ biggest debt burden is in mortgages, given that a home is far and away the largest purchase the average family ever makes. As the foreclosure crisis grinds on, the total amount of outstanding mortgage debt continues to fall, Federal Reserve data shows, though more slowly than earlier in the recession.

A broader turnaround in the housing market, which seems to be in its early stages, might be helping to buoy consumers’ confidence, economists said, as the combination of low interest rates, thawing credit conditions and an aggressive effort by the Federal Reserve has helped to put a floor under falling home prices.

“The Fed is redoubling its efforts to ease financial conditions right when the economy is getting into a better position, a position where it’s more likely to respond to that easing of financial conditions,” Paul Sheard, chief global economist at Standard & Poor’s, said. “Those two things are dovetailing” and will help households in the future, he said.

Other parts of the household debt and spending picture are looking brighter as well, economists said. A September report by Equifax, a consumer credit reporting agency, showed that the total value of auto lending jumped nearly 14 percent year over last year, with sales of new cars and light trucks climbing sharply. In the first half of 2012, Americans took out more car loans than they had since 2007, before the financial crisis hit.

The trends look likely to continue, Equifax said. “The average age of cars on the road today in the U.S. is the highest ever recorded and consumers are ready to replace these older vehicles,” Amy Crews Cutts, Equifax’s chief economist, said in a statement. “The financial picture has improved sufficiently that we are seeing auto lending markets become facilitators rather than obstacles.”

Americans have also improved their personal balance sheets by slashing their outstanding credit card debt to $855 billion today from more than $1 trillion in 2008, according to Federal Reserve data. But student debt has continued its inexorable march higher, a “worrisome” trend that economists say could stop young workers from starting new households or could eat into their spending on other goods and services.

How Americans feel about debt and credit in after the recession might determine how much debt they ultimately shed, Ms. Lund of McKinsey said. “The Great Depression scarred an entire generation,” affecting how households borrowed and spent for decades, she said. “We don’t yet know whether consumer behavior has been fundamentally changed by this crisis or not.”

Thirty years of economic reform — and government policies aimed at attracting foreign investment — have created a set of government agencies that keep records on private corporations and their major shareholders, including copies of resumes and government-issued identity cards.

It is this system that allows news organizations, including The New York Times, to request and review corporate records. Although ordinary citizens are not allowed access to the records, they can hire a lawyer or consulting firm to request documents for a fee of $100 to $200 per company. The Times used this process in obtaining thousands of pages of corporate documents to review the business networks controlled by the relatives of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

In many cities, the local branch of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, or the S.A.I.C., as it is known, provides records for companies that are locally incorporated.

Corporate files often include details of when and where the company was incorporated, the name of the company’s legal representative and a list of major shareholders. There is often financial information, including a company’s registered capital.

China recently tightened access to corporate information, possibly because of a growing number of corporate fraud scandals, but also media investigations into the fortunes held by the relatives of political leaders, including the former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai.

In Beijing, for much of this year, it has been difficult to obtain corporate records from the local bureau of the S.A.I.C.

Still, most records remain publicly available, and beginning late last year The Times reviewed documents obtained in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenzhen and other cities.

The records allowed The Times to trace a network of friends and relatives of the prime minister as they built a multibillion-dollar business empire over the last decade, often with the aid of wealthy entrepreneurs.

But now 90, the prime minister’s mother, Yang Zhiyun, not only left poverty behind — she became outright rich, at least on paper, according to corporate and regulatory records. Just one investment in her name, in a large Chinese financial services company, had a value of $120 million five years ago, the records show.

The details of how Ms. Yang, a widow, accumulated such wealth are not known, or even if she was aware of the holdings in her name. But it happened after her son was elevated to China’s ruling elite, first in 1998 as vice prime minister and then five years later as prime minister.

Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership, an investigation by The New York Times shows. A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister’s relatives, some of whom have a knack for aggressive deal-making, including his wife, have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion.

In many cases, the names of the relatives have been hidden behind layers of partnerships and investment vehicles involving friends, work colleagues and business partners. Untangling their financial holdings provides an unusually detailed look at how politically connected people have profited from being at the intersection of government and business as state influence and private wealth converge in China’s fast-growing economy.

Unlike most new businesses in China, the family’s ventures sometimes received financial backing from state-owned companies, including China Mobile, one of the country’s biggest phone operators, the documents show. At other times, the ventures won support from some of Asia’s richest tycoons. The Times found that Mr. Wen’s relatives accumulated shares in banks, jewelers, tourist resorts, telecommunications companies and infrastructure projects, sometimes by using offshore entities.

The holdings include a villa development project in Beijing; a tire factory in northern China; a company that helped build some of Beijing’s Olympic stadiums, including the well-known “Bird’s Nest”; and Ping An Insurance, one of the world’s biggest financial services companies.

As prime minister in an economy that remains heavily state-driven, Mr. Wen, who is best known for his simple ways and common touch, more importantly has broad authority over the major industries where his relatives have made their fortunes. Chinese companies cannot list their shares on a stock exchange without approval from agencies overseen by Mr. Wen, for example. He also has the power to influence investments in strategic sectors like energy and telecommunications.

Because the Chinese government rarely makes its deliberations public, it is not known what role — if any — Mr. Wen, who is 70, has played in most policy or regulatory decisions. But in some cases, his relatives have sought to profit from opportunities made possible by those decisions.

The prime minister’s younger brother, for example, has a company that was awarded more than $30 million in government contracts and subsidies to handle wastewater treatment and medical waste disposal for some of China’s biggest cities, according to estimates based on government records. The contracts were announced after Mr. Wen ordered tougher regulations on medical waste disposal in 2003 after the SARS outbreak.

In 2004, after the State Council, a government body Mr. Wen presides over, exempted Ping An Insurance and other companies from rules that limited their scope, Ping An went on to raise $1.8 billion in an initial public offering of stock. Partnerships controlled by Mr. Wen’s relatives — along with their friends and colleagues — made a fortune by investing in the company before the public offering.

Instead, Mr. Pandit, the chief executive of Citigroup, was told three news releases were ready. One stated that Mr. Pandit had resigned, effective immediately. Another that he would resign, effective at the end of the year. The third release stated Mr. Pandit had been fired without cause. The choice was his.

The abrupt encounter, described by three people briefed on the conversation, included a terse comment by the chairman, Michael E. O’Neill: “The board has lost confidence in you.”

A stunned Mr. Pandit chose to resign immediately. Even though Mr. Pandit and the board have publicly characterized his exit as his decision, interviews with people close to the board describe how the chairman maneuvered behind the scenes for months ahead of that day to force Mr. Pandit out and replace him with Michael L. Corbat, the board’s chosen successor.

Once he became chairman this year, Mr. O’Neill, 66, meticulously built a case for the chief executive’s ouster, they say, first meeting privately with less-satisfied board members and then drawing in others until Mr. Pandit had virtually no allies left.

As Mr. Pandit was reeling from his encounter, three board members confronted John Havens, the bank’s chief operating officer and a longtime lieutenant.

“Vikram has offered his resignation, and we would like to give you the opportunity to offer yours,” a board member said, following a script prepared by the board’s lawyers, according to several people with knowledge of the meeting.

Startled, Mr. Havens briefly challenged the directors, pointing to the solid performance of the institutional clients group, and then relented, saying his resignation would be on Mr. Pandit’s desk within five minutes.

The dramatic boardroom coup at the bank’s Park Avenue headquarters has rankled some people at Citi, especially senior executives who feel that the action was needlessly ruthless and who spoke only on the condition that they not be identified. They point out that Mr. Pandit successfully steered the once moribund bank through one of its most turbulent chapters, repaid roughly $45 billion in federal lifelines, rebuilt capital and began to focus the sprawling institution.

This week, senior executives at the investment bank convened a group of employees to try to stem any exodus, according to several people briefed on the meeting. Among the employees’ questions: why remain at a bank that treated its top executive so harshly?

Now, the new top officials of the bank are circling to retain the support of some crucial executives, including Brian Leach, Citi’s chief risk officer and a longtime ally of Mr. Pandit, and James A. Forese, who heads the securities and banking division, according to several people close to the discussions.

Mr. Pandit, Mr. O’Neill, Mr. Havens and Mr. Corbat did not return calls for comment or declined to comment.

The seeds of the turmoil were planted in April when Mr. O’Neill, who had been on the board since 2009, took over as chairman from Richard D. Parsons.

Some executives close to Mr. Pandit immediately identified Mr. O’Neill’s ascent as bad news for Mr. Pandit, regardless of how the bank was faring. After all, Mr. O’Neill had vied for the chief executive position before it ultimately went to Mr. Pandit in 2007.

Still, the board transition appeared to go smoothly at first. The handover was marked by a dinner at Citi’s headquarters. Together, Mr. Pandit and Mr. O’Neill roasted the departing chairman, considered more of a diplomat than a strategic banker. At one point, Mr. O’Neill gave a lei to Mr. Parsons, in recognition of their shared fondness of Hawaii: Mr. Parsons attended a university there and Mr. O’Neill was chairman and chief executive of the Bank of Hawaii.

The officer, Cmdr. Peter Spindler, described Mr. Savile, who died last October at 84, as “undoubtedly” one of the most prolific sex offenders in recent British history, during a 50-year career as a self-styled pied piper for the young, the sick and the lonely. Commander Spindler said that in preliminary telephone interviews with 130 of the potential victims, 114 of them had accused Mr. Savile of criminal behavior ranging from “inappropriate touching” to rape. Of the 300 complainants, he said, all but 2 have been female.

Commander Spindler said the “vast majority” of the accusations logged by the police were against Mr. Savile alone, with the remainder involving Mr. Savile and others or episodes in which the entertainer was not implicated. Although the commander specified that investigators had found no evidence of a “pedophile ring,” as some published accounts in Britain have suggested, he said that a number of “living people” were under investigation.

Later, an article on the BBC’s news Web site quoted “sources close to Scotland Yard,” whom it did not further identify, as saying the police were looking at some “figures of high standing” who might have helped Mr. Savile. “It is thought investigations are looking at those who may have assisted Savile, helped organize abuse, cover it up or taken part in assaults themselves,” the BBC story said.

An article on The Guardian’s Web site, citing no sources, said the newspaper “understands” that “names of at least three doctors” who worked at hospitals linked to Mr. Savile over decades had been passed to police investigators, with “claims that they were at the heart of a loose network of child abusers connected with Savile.”

The Guardian story noted that Mr. Savile kept an office and living quarters at the Broadmoor Hospital, a high-security psychiatric treatment center in Berkshire, and a bedroom in the Stoke Mandeville Hospital, in Buckinghamshire, which has one of the largest units in the world that specializes in spinal injuries; both institutions are close to London. The newspaper also said he was given “free rein” at Leeds General Infirmary, in the northern industrial city where he was born and where he found his first job as a boy, working in a mine.

Commander Spindler said his investigation, code-named Operation Yewtree, had not yet led to any arrests, but he implied that they might not be far off when he said that the police were preparing “an arrest strategy.” In the meantime, he said, police investigators were proceeding cautiously with Mr. Savile’s accusers, spending as much as four hours on each initial interview.

“This may be the first time that some people have actually spoken in any detail, and we don’t underestimate how significant an event it is for them to disclose sexual abuse,” he said.

Commander Spindler, who spoke at a news conference and in interviews with British news organizations, did nothing to allay the shock that the Savile scandal has caused across Britain. The weight of the evidence against Mr. Savile, he said, is overwhelming, not least because of the similarities in what the accusers have told the team of officers — raised to 30 in recent days, from an original group of 10 — about the abuses.

“We have to believe what they are saying, because they are saying the same thing independently,” he said.

The BBC reported on Wednesday that Mr. Savile, a bachelor, was investigated but never prosecuted for sexual abuse at least half a dozen times during a television career in which he presented himself as an irrepressibly jaunty figure with a vocation to spread happiness into some of the most vulnerable corners of society. But a cascade of revelations in the past month have suggested that his wildly successful programs, “Top of the Pops” and “Jim’ll Fix It,” as well as charitable work that raised tens of millions and made him a tireless visitor to hospitals, nursing homes and institutions for the emotionally and psychologically disturbed, were vehicles for another career, as a relentless sexual predator.

The scandal has thrown his employer, the BBC, into one of the greatest crises in its 90-year history as Britain’s revered public service broadcaster, drawing in several senior figures there, including its current director general, George Entwistle, who took over in September from Mark Thompson, the incoming president and chief executive of The New York Times Company.

Mr. Thompson was director general of the BBC when the editor of a current affairs program canceled an investigation into Mr. Savile late last year, just as other divisions were planning Christmastime tributes to him, two months after his death.

Mr. Thompson has said repeatedly that he knew nothing about the investigation by the current affairs program, “Newsnight,” while it was under way; had no role in canceling it; and had heard none of the suspicions about Mr. Savile. He has agreed to answer questions from Parliament and from the independent investigators examining the events at the BBC.

The police, the National Health Service and other institutions have been shaken by what the disclosures have shown, and the political shock waves have led the prime minister, David Cameron, to demand that the BBC, in particular, account for its failure to protect Mr. Savile’s victims, some of whom were said to have been abused in his BBC dressing rooms.

Commander Spindler suggested the scandal and the subsequent investigation of the sexual abuse of children would have a cathartic impact on Britain. He said the events of the past month had been “a watershed” that would force public institutions to develop new and tougher programs to detect and combat the sexual exploitation of children, push the police to intensify their own procedures and encourage victims to come forward.

“I think what’s happened with this inquiry,” he said, “is that they do have a voice, and that they will be heard.”

John F. Burns reported from London, and Alan Cowell from Paris.