Many of the resource-rich countries that Global Witness works in have been looted by the very politicians who have been entrusted with developing those economies.
According to conservative estimates more than $450 billion illicitly left African countries during the last decade. Money flows of this kind of scale could not happen without the willingness of banks and other professionals (like estate agents and lawyers) to facilitate the movement of the money, often with the help of anonymous companies to disguise the purpose of transactions.
Banks stand to make big profits from accepting the business of rich, dodgy customers, whether that be tax evaders, corrupt politicians looting money from the budgets of poor countries or other criminals. And yet despite the existence of fairly stringent-sounding anti-money laundering laws, the risks they face for taking tainted assets are small. Banks are rarely caught and when they are, the punishment is small: the fines may seem large to members of the public, but are often only a fraction of the bank’s profits; and there is very limited personal responsibility from individual bankers.
We’re campaigning for a more effective system of deterrents. Senior people within banks need to be held individually responsible for the actions of their institutions; sanctions need to be sufficiently dissuasive; and regulators must improve the way they enforce the existing rules which make it illegal to accept dirty money.
Progress in the UK:
- In December 2013, the UK committed to new measures which could herald a sea change in the way banks uphold the anti-money laundering laws. As part of the Banking Reform Bill passed by parliament, a named senior executive at each bank will be held personally responsible for their bank’s performance in this area, something that Global Witness has been campaigning for.
- Poverty, corruption and anonymous companies, a briefing document that outlines how banks, as well as anonymous companies, play a role in fuelling corruption, March 2014
- Global Witness on banks and corruption in the New York Times, November 2011
Read our in-depth reports:
- Grave Secrecy: how a dead man can own a company and other hair-raising stories about company ownership from Kyrgyzstan and beyond An investigation by Global Witness into a major money laundering scandal, June 2012
- International Thief Thief: how British banks are complicit in Nigerian corruption An investigation by Global Witness into how Barclays, NatWest, RBS, HSBC and UBS took money from corrupt Nigerian governors. Anonymous companies October 2010
- The secret life of a shopaholic: how an African dictator’s playboy son went on a multi-million dollar shopping spree in the US, thanks in part to American banks having allowed his allegedly corruptly-acquired funds into the country, November 2009
- Undue Diligence: how banks do business with corrupt regimes An investigation by Global Witness into how a number of the world’s largest banks, including HSBC, Citibank, and Barclays, have done business with some of the world’s most corrupt regimes, including Equatorial Guinea, Turkmenistan and Charles Taylor’s Liberia, March 2009
- HSBC failed to establish and maintain adequate anti-money laundering systems and so allowed money laundering by drugs cartels, terrorists and pariah states into the US. Read Global Witness’ comment on this here, here, here, here
- We teamed up with Bill Oddie to protest against HSBC’s business ties to companies that are illegally destroying rainforests and abusing human rights in Sarawak. See the video and read the associated report.
- Dictators’ riches are stolen at home, but banked in the west, blog Equatorial Guinea, September 2012
- How the Financial Action Task Force can measure and promote an effective anti-money laundering system, a detailed policy paper about how to measure effectiveness, June 2012
- New documents detail alleged grand corruption in Equatorial Guinea, press release, June 2012
- Sentencing of former Nigerian politician highlights role of British and US banks in money laundering, press release, April 2012
- Massive ICIJ exposé on offshore secrecy should spur G8 action, press release, April 2012
- Civil society submission to the G20 anti corruption working group, February 2012
- Submission to the UK Foreign Office overseas territories consultation, December 2011
- 140 governments pledge to tackle dictators’ loot in wake of Arab Spring, press release, October 2011
- Submission to the Financial Action Task Force in response to standards review, September 2011
Coalitions that we’re part of that work on the issue of money laundering