Corruption knows few limits when it comes to scale. Financial crimes committed by public officials can involve modest amounts of money. Or they can be massive.
It is the mammoth cases that concern the developers of a newly released “Grand Corruption Database.” The online database is a project of the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative of the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The database compiles information on 150 big corruption cases that unfolded between 1980 and 2011. It documents cases involving the misuse of shell companies and other financial structures designed to hide the origins, destinations and true owners of stolen public assets worth US$ 1 million or more.
The database is a companion to a StAR study released last October, The Puppet Masters: How the Corrupt Use Legal Structures to Hide Stolen Assets and What to Do About It. The study addresses the ease with which corrupt government officials and their confederates use corporate and financial structures to create “hidden money trails” that allow them to loot monies intended for schools, healthcare and other social needs.
The new database documents evidence of a wide array of misconduct by officials around the globe. Many of the case studies indicate major financial institutions played a role in allowing kleptocrats to spirit money out of their countries.
For example, the database’s entry on the late Omar Bongo notes that Citibank provided substantial assistance to Bongo, who was accused of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars in public oil money during his four-plus decades’ rule as president of Gabon. According to a 1999 U.S. Senate report, Citibank did so by setting up “numerous companies in secrecy jurisdictions as well as opening a New York account in the name of ‘OS.’ ” Citibank, the database notes, said it believed Bongo’s wealth came from legitimate sources and that he had been “considered a distinguished head of government, supported and embraced by U.S. presidents.”
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