How to hide your wealth 101

There is nothing more damaging for public officials than to have their secret and hard-to-explain assets exposed to the public. You’d think that they would have learned by now. And yet…

In the past weeks, I have been following from afar the travails of Renato Corona, the chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court. Corona is in the midst of an impeachment trial and was found to have deposited millions of dollars in undisclosed bank accounts. As chief justice he should have known: Bank secrecy is not inviolable. As regulators worldwide crack down on money laundering and compel banks to be more accountable for their depositors, full secrecy is no longer guaranteed.

So here’s some unsolicited advice to those in public office: Be careful where you put your money. Be discreet about acquiring assets. Don’t be sloppy when you hide your wealth. Otherwise you’ll prove true what I’ve suspected all along: only the uninitiated and indiscreet get caught. Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Globalizing stolen assets: greed, fear & a taste for the luxury goods of the West

Harvard professor and China expert Roderick MacFarquhar had an insightful op-ed in today’s New York Times, where he talks about why the Chinese elite are stashing their assets overseas and sending their children abroad for schooling. It’s not pure greed, he says, but fear.

China’s Communist leaders cling to Deng Xiaoping’s belief that their continuance in power will depend on economic progress. But even in China, a mandate based on competence can crumble in hard times. So globalizing one’s assets — transferring money and educating one’s children overseas — makes sense as a hedge against risk. (At least $120 billion has been illegally transferred abroad since the mid-1990s, according to one official estimate.)

Such massive asset transfers are happening not just from China, but other places as well, such as Russia and the resource-rich states of Africa, where the acquisitiveness of political leaders have earned some global notoriety. But is it really just fear that motivates the accumulation and transfer of wealth? Is it also not the sheer enjoyment of what money can buy? Read the rest of this entry »


Putin’s Wealth: No ‘smoking gun’ but some ‘smoking watches’

Certificate showing that the wife of the Russian first deputy prime minister is the sole shareholder of a British Virgin Islands company that made millions from a “loan” it gave to a Russian steel conglomerate.

Last month, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London and the Al Jazeera program, People and Power, released the provocatively titled investigation, “Putin: The Richest Man on Earth?”

The report examined Putin’s assets and allegations that he had amassed vast amounts of wealth. The Bureau employed a tried and tested way of uncovering the hidden assets of politicians: its reporters used asset declarations as a starting point and then unearthed proof that other, hidden, and more substantial assets had been acquired through questionable means. This method has been used with some success elsewhere, notably in the Philippines, where journalistic investigation into the assets of the president led to his ouster and by prosecutors in the ongoing trial of the Supreme Court chief justice, who was found to have had millions of dollars in undeclared bank accounts. In Thailand, reporters have used then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s asset declarations to show that he had violated divestment laws, an exposé that came close to forcing him out of office in 2001. Up to now, Thaksin is still facing lawsuits alleging he had falsified his asset disclosures. Read the rest of this entry »


Countering electronic surveillance

In a chilling account in this month’s issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, freelance journalist Matthieu Aikins recounts how hackers in the employ of the Libyan government were able to access the email accounts of foreign journalists. It wasn’t that difficult – nothing that a  hacker of average skills in  say, Manila or Bucharest, couldn’t do.  Among other things, Libyan authorities got  a spreadsheet from a CNN email  account; it had a list of names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the network’s underground sources in Tripoli.

In the past few years, the surveillance capacities of intelligence bodies around the world have multiplied beyond imagination, thanks in part to surveillance technologies developed in the U.S. and Western Europe. But even without those technologies, governments in many countries have been able to count on the cooperation of telecoms companies who willingly release data on subscribers in exchange for leniency on their licensing and other requirements. Read the rest of this entry »