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Sunday, 17 May 2009

Should Europe and North America tear down their Corrupt Financial Infrastructures?

By Lord Aikins Adusei

Anytime Transparency International (TI) releases what it calls corruption perception index (CPI) showing which country is more corrupt and which ones are not the top 10% of most corrupt nations always come from the developing world with most of the so called advanced countries given a clean sheet. TI index always show that countries like Switzerland, Britain, France, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and most of the so called developed nations are less corrupt while those of the developing world are.

However a critical look at what goes on in the world of business and politics show that these so called clean countries and their corporations are more corrupt and do not deserve the accolades that TI gives them.   Countries like Somali, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Philippines, Haiti, Kenya and Guinea among others feature among the top 10% of most corrupt countries in the world. What TI fails to tell the world is where most of the monies and assets stolen are kept. To tell the citizens of these poor countries that their countries are corrupt and not telling them where the looted funds are, is a great injustice and disservice because these poor people are not interested in how corrupt their countries are, they just want to know where the money has gone.

If TI should concentrate on the origin and destination of looted assets, all the so called clean countries who preach accountability and justice will score nothing but zero. The fact is that most of the monies and assets stolen do not remain in the poor countries where they are stolen; they find their way in western countries and save haven Islands controlled by the West. Western Banks, Car Makers and Real Estate companies have been major recipient of all the stolen assets belonging to the world’s poor.  Bonds, stocks and other assets bought with the money are also kept in western countries.

 Besides TI report does not tell the world how these politicians got corrupted. It is on record that multinational corporations with headquarters in Europe, North America and Japan have established flush funds and using them to bribe third world leaders in order to win contracts.

 For example on 17th September 2002 a Canadian Engineering company called Acres International was convicted by a High Court in Lesotho for paying $260,000 bribe to secure an $8-billion dam contract. Achair Partners a Swiss company and Progresso an Italian company have been accused of bribing Somalia Transitional Government officials to secure contracts to deposit highly toxic industrial waste in the waters of Somalia. 

In 2002 Halliburton a US company, was accused of establishing $180m flush fund and of using it to bribe Nigeria officials in order to secure a $10-billion Liquefied Gas Plant contract. In response to the accusation the company fired Mr. Albert Jack Stanley. Mr. Stanley a former executive of Halliburton (KBR) pleaded guilty for orchestrating the $180m flush fund. Such corrupt practices by western companies seeking contracts in Africa are not uncommon.

Apart from directly bribing the politicians and those in authority to win contracts, these companies also help them to launder the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains in Europe and America.

Global Financial Integrity says, “$900-billion is secreted each year from underdeveloped economies, with an estimated $11.5 trillion currently stashed in havens. More than one quarter of these hubs belong to the UK, while Switzerland washes one-third of global capital flight”. Out of this $900b that is secreted away with the help of Western Banks and companies, $150-billion comes from Africa. 

TI annual report always gives a clean sheet to Switzerland and most of the western nations but Richard Murphy, director of Tax Research LLP says: “The idea that Switzerland has a clean economy is a joke; it is a dirt-driven economy”. But it is not only Switzerland that does not have a clean economy. Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain all of which have their own secrecy laws can be described as vampires. Their economies are dirt-driven because most of their financial institutions (a vital sector of their economies) have been implicated in a number of corruption scandals involving corrupt third world leaders and their associates. The Swiss Bankers Association claims that four-fifths of the nation supports banking secrecy laws. This law is the foundation of all the corruption, embezzlement, tax evasions and all the criminal enterprises that we see in the world.

The fact is that those who steal must find a way to hide their loot and the infrastructures and secrecy laws in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Britain, Germany and France make them attractive to criminals and corrupt politicians around the world. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Dr. Iyad Allawi said the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein confessed to stealing $40-billion of Iraqi money and invested it in Switzerland, Germany and Japan.

Switzerland and British economies were the main recipients and beneficiaries of Sani Abacha’s $5-billion embezzlement. When it was discovered that Abacha used the crook banks in these countries to steal the money, Switzerland and Britain wanted to distance themselves from the criminal enterprises run by their banks but in the end had no choice but repatriate over $700-million to the Nigeria government after five years of foot dragging. Only heaven knows how much of Abacha’s loot still remain in these countries.

After 18 years of legal wrangling Switzerland agreed to let the people of Philippines receive the $700m looted by Ferdinand Marcos and kept by her banks. Switzerland kept $700m while children were starving to death and hospitals were closing down for lack of medicines. In the same way Kazakhstan received $84m from Switzerland after her banks had kept the stolen money from this oil rich but economically impoverished country.

Again it took Switzerland 12 years to return $74m of the $110m stolen by Raul Salinas to the government of Mexico. Switzerland still has in her possession the money looted by the dictator ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier 24 years after he was chased away by the poor people of Haiti.

When Mobutu died in 1997 Swiss newspapers reported that the country may be home to at least $4-billion of Mobutu’s stolen assets. The whole world was shocked when Swiss authorities announced that Mobutu’s stolen assets amounted to just under $8m. The shock sent a chill down the spine of DR. Congo’s president. He has still not recovered and has refused to show any interest in pursuing the money.

So far Switzerland has repatriated $1.6-billion of the money criminally accepted by her banks to its rightful owners but only heaven knows how much still remain in that country. For all their fine words about combating money laundering, corruption, fraud and racketeering, nothing seems to have changed in Europe and America. Omar Bongo, the world’s longest serving head of state, has been implicated for using Swiss and French banks to stash millions if not billions of dollars from his oil rich country including tens of millions of dollars illegally paid by Elf Oil Company.

While Europe and American politicians preach against corruption in the third world they also enact laws which facilitate and promote corruption and embezzlement in the third world.

US Senator Carl Levin says, America cannot have it both ways. We cannot condemn corruption abroad, be it officials taking bribes or looting their treasuries, and then tolerate American banks making fortunes off that corruption. Unfortunately that is exactly what is happening today which is a clear case of double standards. 

“Transparency International brought a case calling on the French justice system to examine how the leaders of Gabon, Congo Brazzaville and Equatorial Guinea and their families could afford to acquire assets worth tens of millions of euros.
The assets include scores of vast apartments and villas and dozens of French bank accounts and cars ranging from Ferraris and Maseratis to Rolls-Royce Phantom.
On Tuesday May 5th 2009, in a landmark decision a preliminary investigation was launched by an independent French financial magistrate to look into the corruption allegations but French state prosecutors, overseen by the government of Nicolas Sarkozy quickly launched an appeal to prevent the case from being opened arguing that Transparency International has no right to lodge a complaint because it is not a direct victim of any wrongdoing.

The public prosecutor has twice previously ruled that the complaint by the anti-corruption activists was inadmissible. The fact is that France has important economic and strategic interests in the three oil and gas-producing countries and fears the case may harm relations with her former colonies hence the appeal. In the last five decades France has supported corrupt regimes and dictators to embezzle billions of dollars belonging to most of her poor former colonies.

For example a French police report has revealed that Omar Bongo and his close relatives own 33 luxury properties in France but newspapers put the figure at 59. Bongo and his family also have 70 French bank accounts and at least nine luxury cars, including Ferraris and Mercedes worth a total of €1.5m (£1.3m).

Denis Sassou Nguesso and his family have 112 French bank accounts, 13 luxury cars in France and 24 properties. Sassou-Nguesso's daughter Edith – who was Bongo's late wife, bought a mansion in the rich eighth arrondissement of Paris for 18.9-million euros. Only God knows how much money has been stolen and placed in these bank accounts.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, along with family members, he has eight luxury cars, worth a total of €4.2m, in France. His son, a government minister, owns an apartment in an exclusive area of the capital. Source:

In a separate French investigation into corruption at the former oil giant
Elf Aquitaine, an executive testified that it paid £40m a year to Bongo via
Swiss bank accounts in exchange for permission to exploit his country’s
oil reserves. In February of 2009 a court in France had nine of Bongo’s bank accounts containing several millions of Euros frozen. 
Can  French economy be described as clean or dirt-driven?

 A damning report by Global Witness accuses Western banks of facilitating corruption and denying some of the world’s poorest people the chance to escape poverty. The banks included HSBC, Citigroup, Banco Santanderand Barclays.
Among its allegations are claims that Barclays kept open an account for the son of the dictator of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, despite evidence that his family had looted the country's oil revenues. Global Witness also accused HSBC and Santander, Abbey's Spanish owner, of frustrating US efforts to investigate the looting and laundering of Equatorial Guinea's oil revenues by hiding behind bank secrecy laws in Luxembourg and Spain. 

Global Witness also accused Citi Bank for helping 
Charles Taylor, to loot timber revenues in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Gavin Hayman, Campaign Director for Global Witness, says: "The same lax regulation that created the credit crunch has let some of the world's biggest banks to facilitate the looting of natural resource wealth from poor countries and concludes that
"If resources like oil and timber are to truly help lift Africa and other poor regions out of poverty, then banks must be made to stop doing business with corrupt dictators and their families."

The world seven most industrialised nations (G7) have been making a lot noise about the poverty situation in the third world especially in Africa. They have spearheaded the UN Millennium Development Goals that has set targets to reduce poverty by 2015 but it is clear these same G7 nations are the very countries causing the poverty. They enact secrecy laws that establish corrupt financial infrastructures; their multinational corporations bribe third world leaders, assist them to hide their loots in Western Banks; politicians intervene when cases are filed against corrupt leaders in Africa and who suffers in all these?

US Senator Richard Lugar says: "Corruption thwarts development efforts in many ways. Bribes can influence important bank decisions on projects and on contractors. Misuse of funds can inflate project costs, deny needed assistance to the poor, and cause projects to fail. Stolen money may prop up dictatorships and finance human rights abuses. Moreover, when developing countries lose development bank funds through corruption, the taxpayers in those poor countries are still obligated to repay the development banks. So, not only are the impoverished cheated out of development benefits, they are left to repay the resulting debts to the banks.

And Dr. Susan Hawley agrees with him and says: “Multinational corporations’ corrupt practices affect the South (i.e. Africa, Asia and Latin America) in many ways. They undermine development and exacerbate inequality and poverty. They disadvantage smaller domestic firms and transfer money that could be put towards poverty eradication into the hands of the rich. They distort decision-making in favour of projects that benefit the few rather than the many. They also increase debt that benefit the company, not the country; bypass local democratic processes; damage the environment; circumvent legislation; and promote weapons sales. Bribes put up the prices of projects. When these projects are paid for with money borrowed internationally, bribery adds to a country's external debt. Ordinary people end up paying this back through cuts in spending on health, education and public services. Often they also have to pay by shouldering the long-term burdens of projects that do not benefit them and which they never requested”. Source: The Corner House, June 2000.

A UN report of October 2002 accused 85 European and U.S. multinational corporations – including Anglo American, Barclays Bank, Bayer, De Beers and Cabot Corporation of violating the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's ethical guidelines on conflict zones. The guidelines they were accused of violating relate to arming Rwanda, Uganda and Congolese rebels and profiting from their illegal looting of Congo's minerals.

British Aerospace was accused of paying bribes to Tanzania officials to look the other way while a device with ageing technology was sold to the country. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was accused of helping BAE to seal the deal. “The UK sold a useless air traffic control system to Tanzania in 2001 in a scandalous and squalid deal, the House of Commons was told.” Clare Short an MP said, “The deal was useless and hostile to the interests of Tanzania”. She said, “Barclays Bank had colluded with the government by loaning Tanzania the money, but lying to the World Bank about the type and size of the loan.”  Shadow international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said “BAE had used ageing technology and said the system was not adequate and too expensive.” Source: BBCNEWS, Wednesday, 31 January 2007. Corruption investigation concerning arms sales to Saudi Arabia by this same BAE was stopped by the same Tony Blair in December 2006.

It is on record that multinational corporations declare about 40% of their profits in African countries where they operate and siphon the rest into their save haven accounts in Europe, the Pacific and Caribbean with the full knowledge of their governments.

Elf for instance operated as an arm of the French state supporting dictators, looting third world resources and establishing flush fund which was used to bribe African leaders so they will look the other way while Elf loots Africa's oil and gas. Andre Tarallo the real boss of Elf-Afrique “told the court in June 2003 that annual cash transfers totalling about £10m were made to Omar Bongo, Gabon's president, while other huge sums were paid to leaders in Angola, Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville”. Source: Guardian, Nov. 2003.

The real deal is that Elf, Shell, BP and their counterparts in Europe and America pay bribes to African leaders to induce them to look the other way why they plunder the resources. 

Nicholas Shaxson, author of Poisoned Wells, wrote of the subject: “Magistrates discovered the money from Elf's African operations supplied bribes to support French commercial, military and diplomatic goals around the world. In exchange, French troops protected compliant African dictators.”
 This is how African politicians and civil servants have been corrupted by multinational corporations assisted by the big banks in Europe and America but we often do not hear much about them.

Switzerland, Britain, United States, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and France are the most culprits of all and can be said to be the most corrupt countries in the world because they have created the international financial infrastructures that allow corrupt politicians, business elite and criminals to hide their ill-gotten wealth and to escape prosecution. Switzerland in particular has come under heavy criticism because of her relationship with dictators and criminals around the world. There has not been a single corrupt dictator or criminal who has not had links with British, Swiss or French governments or their institutions. From Saddam Hussein all down to Mobutu, Abacha, Lansana Conte, Ferdinand Marcos, Baby Doc Duvalier, Omar Bongo, Nguema, Sassou Nguesso, Campore, Dos Santos all have connections with one or more of these countries yet their economies are always given a clean sheet by anti corruption watchdogs.

Dr. Susan Hawley, author of “Exporting Corruption” says: Private banking services and offshore financial centres are the major conduits and repositories for bribes and corrupt gains. An estimated US$40 billion from poor and former communist economies finds its way into US or European banks every year, much of it illegitimately gained. Some $30 billion of Western aid "used as part of the Cold War game of winning friends" has ended up in Swiss bank accounts alone. Leaders from some African countries have collectively had up to $20 billion on deposit in Switzerland's banks. Haiti's "Baby Doc" Duvalier is known to have kept $300-900 million in offshore banks, while Philippine President Marcos salted away well over $2 billion in Western banks.

How could corrupt dictators and their associates succeed in looting and hiding their ill-gotten wealth without the collusion, connivance and support of western political and business establishments and its corrupt financial infrastructures? How was Abacha able to hide over five billion dollars in Switzerland and Britain? How was Mobutu able to hide about $10-billion in Europe?

A US Senate inquiry in 1999 revealed that the giant Citibank held private accounts for many corrupt Third World leaders. These included Gabonese president Omar Bongo (who transferred US$100 million, allegedly including bribes from French firm Elf-Aquitaine, through his three accounts), Benazir Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari ($40 million, including $10 million allegedly from kickbacks on a gold importing contract), the three sons of Sani Abacha ($110 million in accounts, plus $39 million lent to them to deposit in Swiss accounts after the new Nigerian government began investigations) and Raul Salinas, brother of one-time Mexican President Carlos Salinas ($80-$100 million in alleged drug money).

This day light robbery by third world leaders and the protection offered them by countries like France, Switzerland, Britain, United States and Spain are the result of the chronic poverty seen everywhere in Africa, Haiti, Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and most of the developing world. While criminal international financial institutions aid and abet these dictators to plunder the treasuries of their countries, millions of Africans who live in abject poverty continue to cry for basic necessities of life such as water and food. In the name of economic interest, European and North American countries are causing millions to die by protecting these corrupt politicians and their associates.

The fact is that Europe, North America, their financial colonies in the Pacific and the Caribbean Islands and their multinational institutions are so attractive to corrupt politicians and criminals of all sorts due to the existence of corrupt banking and real estate infrastructures; the secrecy laws (omerta) that protect these corrupt financial entities; a weak justice system that make mockery of the law to fight financial crimes, international fraud and tax havens; and a complete absence of due diligence checks which allow anyone including the multinational corporations to do anything for money be it legal or illegal. The current global crisis caused by these greedy criminals attest to this fact. The crisis negative effect worldwide is a strong message to the governments in Europe and America that no one is safe, not even their political career.

 It is time to abolish all the banking secrecy laws; close down all the save haven centres; eliminate all the infrastructures that promote fraud, tax evasion, corruption, embezzlement and dictatorships; and rein in on the corrupt banking and real estate industries and those who illegally patronise their services.   Unless the system and its supporting infrastructures are destroyed, there will be no immediate end to poverty and the attainment of the millennium development goals set by the United Nations will be a mirage. Poverty, malnutrition, hunger, starvation, diseases, and political instabilities will continue to dominate the regions where these assets are stolen from and the spill over effect will be the increased influx of illegal immigrants that Europeans are at the moment struggling to cope with.

By Lord Aikins Adusei

Political Activist and Anti-Corruption Campaigner

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