Pandora Box, and American Kleptocracy

Some reflections on the Pandora Papers revelations, and a new must-read book to make sense of it all.

Pandora is the name of the first woman created by Zeus (the Greek god). According to Greek mythology, Pandora is the root of all evil that exists on earth. As the story goes, Zeus had offered her a box, forbidding her to open it. Titillated by curiosity, Pandora could not help opening it, releasing physical and emotional curses upon mankind thus condemning it to suffering.

Last week, Pandora’s box was opened again triggering global outrage, disappointment and shame. 2.94 terabytes of data, 11.9 million records and documents have been carefully released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). With the “Pandora Papers”, the ICIJ exposes a shadow financial system that benefits the world’s rich and powerful. 

As a financial crime professional, I can’t say that the substance of what was shared was new information, despite the spectacular naming and shaming. After all, the Pandora Papers, follow nine years of financial leaks that have given us a pretty good idea on how the parallel world of the elite works: through a complex network of tax havens, shell companies and offshore accounts offering perfect secrecy and enabling billions of dollars in assets to be hidden, laundered, and untaxed. These complex corporate & financial montages are often put in place, in perfect legality, through lawyers, accountants, asset managers, bankers and other professional “enablers”.


The 50 Africans mentioned in the Pandora Papers

Of the 338 personalities cited, more than 10% originate from the African continent. While this scandal covers political leaders around the world, the mention of African heads of state – assisted by Western nations- leaves a rather bitter taste. I originally delved into compliance so I could, in my own microcosm, participate in the war against corruption and money laundering that impoverishes African nations. I have upheld laws like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the UK Bribery Act, and other anticorruption and anti money laundering legislations purporting to be leaders in those fights, so poverty could be reduced in countries like mine, and in other nations suffering from abject poverty.

Those who have been accused by the Pandora Papers will of course deny any wrongdoing, saying that it is not public money. Those enabling this flight of capital will say their actions are not illegal. If there’s no illegality then why build opaque and hard to trace webs of offshore companies? Why not be transparent with your constituents and your nation? 

They say in our nations corruption is endemic. I would add, it is chronic and takes a serious lack of morality. But again it raises one question, why is corruption in our nations enabled by the countries that claim morality, and would not tolerate corruption back home?

One book promises a very timely explanation, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

American Kleptocracy: How the U.S. Created the World’s Greatest Money Laundering Scheme in History

Casey Michel’s American Kleptocracy offers an explosive investigation into how the United States of America built the largest illicit offshore finance system the world has ever known.

Pre-order your copy now

For years, one country has acted as the greatest offshore haven in the world, attracting hundreds of billions of dollars in illicit finance tied directly to corrupt regimes, extremist networks, and the worst the world has to offer. The country that profits more from secrecy, also happens to be the one that still claims to be the moral leader of the free world, and the one that claims to be leading the fight against the crooked and the corrupt: the USA.

American Kleptocracy examines just how the United States’ implosion into a center of global offshoring took place: how states like Delaware and Nevada perfected the art of the anonymous shell company, and how post-9/11 reformers watched their success usher in a new flood of illicit finance directly into the U.S.; how African despots and post-Soviet oligarchs came to dominate American coastlines, American industries, and entire cities and small towns across the American Midwest; how Nazi-era lobbyists birthed an entire industry of spin-men whitewashing trans-national crooks and despots, and how dirty money has now begun infiltrating America’s universities and think tanks and cultural centers; and how those on the front-line are trying to restore America’s legacy of anti-corruption leadership—and finally end this reign of American kleptocracy.

“Should be read urgently by anyone who wants to preserve open societies and the rule of law.”

—Tom Burgis, author of Kleptopia

Some additional food for thought from a concerned compliance professional: Permitting a small number of people to choose the laws applicable to them creates a conflicting system: the offshore world and the rest of the world. Compliance professionals are being asked to identify with a society in which there are different rules for different people and where it is permissible for a few to create their own laws and be protected by secrecy, while the rest of us strives for compliance with the laws that society put in place for its common good. That is an unacceptable proposition.

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