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Corruption destroys livelihoods, economies and democracies. It helps keep poor countries poor, encourages conflict and instability and leads to fragile environments getting wrecked.

None of this happens by accident. Corrupt politicians and other criminals need a system to help them move money around the world, a bank to handle their stolen money and bribe payments, and anonymous companies and trusts that allow them to hide their identity.  

Currently too many banks aid and abet criminal behaviour. Many violate the laws designed to stop them taking ill-gotten gains, which in turn aren’t properly enforced by regulators. In some countries, legal loopholes mean it can be possible for banks to handle ill-gotten gains without technically breaking any rules.

Global Witness has investigated lots of examples of banks doing business with corrupt regimes and other criminals. For example, we exposed some of the banks who did business with the son of the President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodorin Obiang. At the time the money moved, Teodorin Obiang was a government Minister, on a modest salary, yet he had accumulated vast personal wealth. Riggs bank in America was ultimately brought down because it did business with the Obiangs, while a US federal investigation into assets owned by Obiang Junior in the US was settled in 2014 for more than $30 million.  

Even when the rules are properly enforced, banks are usually let off with fines that can be chalked up to the cost of doing business, with the financial impact usually passed onto investors and customers. Senior individuals with oversight of breaches are rarely held to account. This means that corrupt politicians can access the global financial system with almost impunity, and banks can make great profits at considerable social and environmental cost for the rest of us. 

Global Witness is calling for senior executives to face personal consequences, including criminal penalties in the most serious cases, when their banks handle suspect funds and facilitate large scale crime on their watch. In addition, we are calling for an end to the anonymously owned companies that allow the criminal and corrupt to move dirty money through the international system undetected. As a result of this campaign, new laws have recently come into force in the UK and EU to end the use of anonymous companies, and increase the accountability of senior bankers.

  • Report

    International Thief Thief

    British high street banks accepted millions of pounds in deposits from corrupt Nigerian politicians, raising serious questions about their commitment to tackling financial crime.
    International Thief Thief Report Cover