An eye-opening investigation of the places where dark money goes to hide.
As Guardian writer Bullough (The Last Man in Russia: The Struggle to Save a Dying Nation, 2013, etc.) notes, there was a time when a kleptocrat who stole money from their nation had a fairly limited set of options for what to do with the loot: buy a nice yacht or a fleet of cars, which can be easily accounted (and prosecuted) for. The dark magic of offshore finance, with its shell companies and hidden bank accounts, changes all that, providing a “magic teleportation box” whereby the money disappears only to pop up on the other side of the globe, difficult to trace and useful in bribing local officials. “It’s no wonder officials become such gluttons,” Bullough writes, “since there is now no limit on how much money they can steal, and therefore no limit on how much they can spend.” The author’s first case study is Paul Manafort, the now-disgraced chair of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, master manipulator of “financial plumbing” that allowed him “to suck money out of Ukraine and pour it into luxury goods in New York and Virginia.” That money flowed into laundering companies in the Caribbean, Cyprus, and several U.S. states, all secret stations on the way to “Moneyland.” Governments around the world foresaw that such a place might exist, which led to the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944, meant in part to “stop uncontrolled money flows” and to buttress otherwise corruptible democracies; those laws have pretty well been scrapped. Bullough ably explores the shadow world of finance, writing of the gold standard of old as well as the modern moneyed class, who “don’t tend to be part of a specific geography,” as one investigator put it, “but tend to be very global, hanging out in plutonomy destinations with fellow plutonomists”—the very people, by the author’s account, who truly run the show.
Students of the modern economy, to say nothing of politicians and nations for sale, will find Bullough’s work fascinating.