For most African kleptocrats, the west has been a safe haven for stashing the wealth that they looted from their countries. Thankfully, the world is changing and governments that used to turn a blind eye to such cases are now taking the necessary steps.
In the past decades, not only politicians but bankers, lawyers and middlemen from the west were happy to allow the African rulers to hide their wealth in various forms. This was later used to purchase a fleet of luxury cars, yachts and property worth millions.
With the changing times, countries like United States, Britain and Switzerland, which were the favourite destinations of such corrupt leaders, have tightened the money-laundering and bribery laws. Anti-corruption campaigners and journalists are on the trail of such accounts, making them difficult to hide.
It has been estimated that Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, has lost $230 billion or more in illegal financial outflows since 2004. The money has been channelled out by exploiting the loopholes in the international financial system and invested in high-end real estate in London, New York, and Dubai.
It was found out that former military dictator, Sani Abacha looted more than $4.3 billion while in office. Recently a joint effort by investigators from USA and Europe have successfully confiscated more than £1bn from bank accounts connected to him.
Presently a criminal trial is ongoing in Milan against Eni, the Italian energy giant, and its Anglo-Dutch counterpart, Royal Dutch Shell. The scandal was first unearthed in 1998 when the country’s then oil minister, Dan Etete, allegedly awarded the rights of a particular piece of land to himself, via a shell company called Malabu Oil & Gas. The piece of land is marked as OPL245 which as per estimates, has a staggering 9 billion barrels of recoverable oil and natural gas in it.
Recently it has been uncovered that Gabon’s ruling Bongo family owned 39 properties in and around Paris.
The massive luxury property market in London has been a focal point for laundering huge sums of money. It has been estimated that the Swiss banks receive more than $150 billion from Africa every year, mostly public funds stolen by corrupt government officials. Some other countries from where plenty of funds have been channelled into the western markets include Egypt, Congo, Seychelles and South Africa.
With western countries shifting to negative interest rates in recent years, hiding cash in those spots have become a less lucrative option for the looters. UK also created the new legal tool- the Unexplained Wealth Order that allows the authorities to question the origin of any suspicious wealth deposit.
The authorities in the USA are also more alert and recently a luxury yacht was seized by officials and sold in last July. It was associated with another Nigerian oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke and was reportedly hired out to pop stars, including Beyonce and Jay-Z, for parties.
Even with these developments, there is a lot more to be done and huge sums are still unaccounted for. As per a Swiss prosecutor, “Money is moved around the world in such a complicated way that it is very difficult to follow the trail.”
Even after facing hardened laws, many kleptocrats take help from expensive lawyers to drag out the proceedings and escape the clutches of western law.
But the winds of change are blowing and the world is not going to turn a blind eye towards indiscriminate looting in the coming years.