Moneyland: Why Thieves and Crooks Now Rule the World and How To Take It Back by Oliver Bullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a goldmine of information on the world of offshore. Bullough delves into the history and explains how we got into this situation. The post-war Bretton Woods agreement actually ensured global financial stability for decades, with no global recessions such as those we have seen more recently. Well it did until it was undermined by eurodollars and effectively crippled. Critics will of course say, that under the current system we can grow more quickly without the agreement than under it but then of course you have to put up with near financial ruin, bailing out banks.
There’s three different types of money hidden away in Moneyland. Legitimate (such as the Jews/refugees hid during WW2) to stop the Nazis stealing it. “Naughty”, wealthy individuals dodging taxes. “Evil”, money stolen from state budgets by officials. Why have so many fledgling democracies been entrenched in poverty for so many years, despite being rich in natural resources? Simple, massive corruption. Leaders run scams whereby the state budget is siphoned off to themselves via money laundering.
One thing I always wondered was why do the leaders of countries always steal so much? Aren’t they content with a few million? It’s all a giant pyramid scheme, once you’ve started to steal a little, you need to pay off officials so they don’t raise the alarm about your scam. Then they need to pay off their underlings and so on and so on…
All the kleptocracy wouldn’t be possible unless it was enabled by the West. Where legions of lawyers, accountants, estate agents don’t ask questions about where this money has come from. All they’re after is a slice of the pie and they’ll keep quiet (Swiss banking secrecy). Though it was quite satisfying when US law (FACTA) broke the secrecy laws. It’s no wonder that it’s hard to track dirty money, when the orchestrators hide behind complex corporate structures such as nested shell companies. Here bizarrely no-one owns a company.
Curiously, there’s a mention of Bill Browder’s time in Russia. Where he intially supported Vladimir Putin because he naively thought, he was cleaning up the corrupt oligarchs but instead he just pocketed the proceeds and jailed his political enemies. It also notes how Browder won a landmark case of libel tourism against one of Sergei Magnitsky’s tormentors but predictably he stiffed Browder for the bill and absconded to Russia, where he remains a fugitive to this day.
What are the side effects of Moneyland? Well to name a few, nations are robbed of their wealth and are destitute in poverty. Nations are unable to raise taxation on offshore wealth, depriving public services. And Terrorism. Bullough has an interesting theory in that, Alexander Litvinenko was murdered because he was about to blow the lid off the secrets of the Moneyland ratchet. Let’s not forget the many murdered Russian oligarchs in London. Places like the UK have actually actively encouraged wealthy foreigners believing it is better to host the tournament than win the trophy, as it will generate investment. But this has the side effect of hyperinflating property prices and creating a shortage of affordable housing in the capital. A leaf should be taken out of New Zealand’s book, where it is against the law for foreigners to buy housing.
On solutions, Bullough says at the very least, political parties should refuse to take money from shell companies. Something which seemed too much during the Brexit referendum where the DUP took some $400k from an anonymous company and broke the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. A quirk of US law is that citizens must pay tax to the US regardless of residency status. This has lead to the US having agreements with other countries that must disclose assets held by its citizens, so they can be taxed. Sadly, this agreement is not bilateral despite the Obama administration trying to make it so. They crumbled under powerful lobbying.
Thankfully, the British parliament has voted to open up the company registries of its crown dependencies, lifting the lid on secrecy. This makes tracking theft a lot easier, which is what law enforcement spends half its time doing. The UK has also forced companies to designate a ‘person with significant control’ and certain European countries have compelled companies to disclose ‘beneficial persons’.
In the end, the author concludes these partial solutions are not enough and he brings up his catchphrase once again. In that, money can traverse borders easily but laws do not. Therefore, there needs to be some form of international cooperation and homegenaisation of laws surrounding company formation and disclosure. As he points out time and again, if even one jurisdiction doesn’t comply then everyone will just move their money there.
So isn’t time we stood up to Moneyland? If it threatens our democracy, the quality of our lives and the very lives of our citizens?
The higher up in the Communist Party [of China] someone is, the less likely they are to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the country.
The more plastic bags you wrap around a dog turd, the harder it is for outsiders to realise what’s inside. And if the last bag says Tiffany & Co. on it, perhaps no one will ever realise it’s full of shit.
– On nested shell companies
It must have been very frustrating for Nazi war criminals to have money sitting in Switzerland and no prospect of a decent return. Finally, thanks to Ian Fraser and his team, they had a risk-free and tax-free method to make their secret stash earn a living.
The corruption of Afghanistan’s rulers has stopped them battling opium growers, meaning cheap heroin continues to flow wherever smugglers wish to send it. Russia, which consumes much of the heroin, has more than a million HIV-positive inhabitants, while its health service remains underfunded and its government would rather pursue cheap propaganda wins than help its citizens.
‘She wears a diaper, because she can’t be bothered to go to the bathroom,’ he told me, with a grimace, as he remembered getting on to the plane. ‘It was all well and good until three hours later I look over and hear this “ding”. The stewardess comes over: “I need you to change my diaper.” So they look at me, you like, like, “Let your son do it.” I’m, like, “That’s not my mother.” They made the flight attendant do it. So, yeah, we go above and beyond.’
– On a wealthy Israeli woman
The 1990s in Russia were disastrous. The army lost a war against Chechnya, a region with fewer people than Russia had soldiers. The economy collapsed. The government defaulted on its debt. Male life expectancy fell below sixty years. Epidemic diseases spread fast. The country was ruled by an erratic alcoholic, whose government was bullied by oligarchs and in hock to the International Monetary Fund.
View all my reviews