Some of the world’s major banks are willing to do business with corrupt regimes. By doing so they facilitate corruption and looting of natural resource revenues, denying some of the world’s poorest people a chance to escape poverty.
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. The days of politicians walking into a bank with a briefcase stuffed full of cash are largely over. Nowadays corruption is through electronic wire transfers and front companies.
In March 2009 Global Witness published a comprehensive and ambitious report that exposed the dark underbelly of global finance. Undue Diligence: How banks do business with corrupt regimes detailed 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.
Global Witness targets law-makers, international organisations, regulators and the banks themselves in an effort to make it harder for corrupt politicians to access the financial system. As a result of our campaigning this issue has risen up the international agenda, with the G20 group of leading economies taking particular interest. National governments have also taken an interest, and some governments have started to alter their anti-money laundering regulations to reflect Global Witness concerns.
One of the international institutions that we work closely with is the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global body that sets the anti-money laundering standards to tackle financial crime. In part to due to pressure from organisations such as Global Witness, the FATF is increasingly focusing on how to stop corrupt politicians from accessing the financial system. The FATF needs to close loopholes in its own standards as well as put more pressure on countries to properly implement its standards.
We combine our advocacy work with in-depth investigations. The Secret Life of a Shopaholic , launched in November 2009, showed how Teodorin Obiang, son of the President of the oil-rich West African state, went on a multi-million dollar shopping spree in the U.S., including buying a $35 million mansion and a private jet, thanks in part to American banks having allowed his corruptly-acquired funds into the country.