Follow the money: A new book examines the global ecosystem of laundered cash, revealing a world where most governments turn a blind eye when it suits them and few nations can feel morally superior.

Author:Williams, Stephen
Position:Book review

MONEYLAND Why thieves and crooks now rule the world and how to take it back

By Oliver Bullough

14.99 [pounds sterling] Profile Books

ISBN: 978-1-78125-792-0

Issues surrounding misappropriated funds are not entirely new to Africa, but as this book reveals, the financial centres of the West facilitate, if not encourage, the phenomenon of dirty money. The book's author, Oliver Bullough, calls the destination of this flight "Moneyland".

Bullough is an award-winning author and investigative journalist and a leading expert on dirty money, and has given evidence to parliamentary committees.

Of course Moneyland is less a physical location and more a metaphor for an entire ecosystem of financial institutions, lawyers, accountants, and tax advisors who use offshore accounts, shell companies and bearer bonds to move money while keeping its putative ownership hidden from authorities. It is estimated that the proportion of national wealth for the US hidden offshore is 4%; around 10% for Western Europe; 52% for Russia; 30% for Africa and 57% for the Gulf countries.

What is perhaps surprising is that the Moneyland industry is a comparatively modern development.

"Once upon a time, if an official stole money, there was not much he could do with it. He could buy himself a new car or build himself a nice house or give it to his friends and family, but that was about it," writes Bullough.

"If he [or she, it might be pointed out] kept stealing, the money would just pile up in his house until he had no more room left to put it in."

Bullough says this partly changed with the rise of Switzerland as a centre of global finance. The small nation became the epicentre of misbegotten wealth, a piggy bank for politicians, criminals, and shady businessmen keen to hide the source of their wealth from the outside world.

"The rich and famous, the bad and ugly, intelligence agents and Mafiosi, used numbered accounts to hide money from wives; husbands and business partners; to embezzle company profits, to fund small wars and finance drug cartels," writes Bullough.

The shell game

Yet Switzerland's model has arguably gone global, and the small European nation acts as Bullough's gateway to a global tour of territories that have made a fortune from abetting dirty money.

Along the way we uncover a new vocabulary of graft: there is "bad" money--derived from crime and corrupt practices; "naughty" money--income that is attempting to evade taxation; and "shy" money--otherwise...

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