Why thieves and crooks now rule the world and how to take it back
I came to this book somewhat indirectly, having first been alerted to the ownership in the UK of large tracts of land and expensive property by companies registered in Tax Havens. What really surprised me was the role of UK as “Moneyland”, a “laundromat” for dirty money: money which has been stolen by leaders from the ordinary people of corrupt countries.
It includes Russian Oligarchs, Chinese billionaires, money from drug barons but, worse still, from poor African countries. This money makes its way out of the country from which it was stolen and tends to land up in property in London or New York – from whence it is extremely difficult to take it back.
Review of “Moneyland” by Oliver Bullough
Oliver Bullough was a journalist in Ukraine at the fall of the dictator, Viktor Yanukovich, when everyone realised quite how awful he had been. It is rather sinister to read that one of Donald Trump’s advisers had also been involved with Yanukovich. Subsequently the UK tried to freeze £23million from another Ukrainian oligarch, but failed totally, because he was not prosecuted in Ukraine, due to ingrained corruption.
This case was also mixed up with the company in which Jo Biden’s son was involved. He points out that the crooks who steal in corrupt countries do not stop being crooks because they now live in the West: they start to pollute our society too.
How dirty money is cleaned
There is considerable detail as to how stolen money can cross borders and yet still appear to be “clean”. The main problem is that, although the money can cross many borders, the law cannot. Thus, anyone who is rich enough can pay the best lawyers and accountants and keep its origin secret. Fortunately, Swiss banks have now opened up and are not so secret as they used to be. However, some states in the USA, notably Nevada and Florida, now allow trust companies to hold wealth in the USA without it being taxed – a rather newer loophole in the law.
How dirty money is spent
It was interesting to see what dirty money can be spent on in the West. Not only is property a good bet because it is a safe investment and the lawyers protect it, but the wealthy tend to congregate and have large parties and weddings costing £200,000. They also buy expensive cars and yachts, and divorces are costly too. They can afford the best lawyers to protect their money in the Western country in which it has arrived.
It seems that the UK is a good place to litigate, particularly for people who have stolen money in a corrupt country which will not prosecute them. The UK now has companies which can easily be registered and no checks are done on whether the data submitted is true – although the beneficial owner needs to be listed.
How Moneyland might be defeated
The question is “what can be done about all this dirty money which is sloshing around the world?” It does seem to have undesirable consequences in liberal democratic Western countries. For instance, what would happen if all those expensive flats in London, which are mostly unoccupied, were back in the UK housing stock; more people would have homes to live in.
The situation is much worse in poor corrupt countries from whence it has been looted. Obviously, this money needs to come back to where it belongs. One suggestion (not mentioned in the book) is to have a Tobin tax* on all currency which passes from one country to another. This could be a relatively small tax, which could raise plenty of money, say, to deal with the refugee problem.
It would also mean that all cross-border transactions are registered. It would catch global companies too, but that would be the cost of doing global business. Another suggestion is that the IMF doesn’t lend money to countries where stolen money is known to have left the country. The perpetrators should be punished and the money returned first.
* Tobin Tax: a proposed tax on international financial transactions, especially speculative currency exchange transactions. Named after the US economist James Tobin (1918–2002), who first proposed this type of tax in a lecture delivered in 1972.