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No Safe Haven

The ability to hide and spend corrupt funds overseas is a large part of what makes grand scale corruption possible and attractive. Read more

Stolen billions don’t fit under mattresses. The ability to hide and spend corrupt funds overseas is a large part of what makes grand scale corruption possible and attractive. It keeps poor countries poor, props up dictatorships and fuels conflict and corruption. Our founder Charmian Gooch spelt it out in this TED talk:


This is not just disastrous for development in poor countries, it is very bad for global security. As we have seen recently in Ukraine, Syria and Libya, when the systematic corruption of a fallen regime is suddenly laid bare in a bloody revolution, foreign powers rush to seize assets and freeze bank accounts. Think about Colonel Gadaffi’s son and his luxury Hampstead mansion, Ben Ali’s yachts in Spain, or Teodorin Obiang’s super-cars. But by this time it is too late – if the money was so obviously corrupt, why was it not found out before citizens were forced out on to the streets in bloody protest? 

If you want to steal billions from your own people and funnel it overseas, you need a few things. You need a bank willing to handle the funds without asking too many questions, a lawyer to set up anonymous companies that cover your tracks, and ideally some attractive property and respectable schools to sink your money into. Once you have these things, you can comfortably settle in to your life of luxury far away from the people who might try to hold you to account.  These services are readily available to you in some of the world’s most famous financial sectors, brokered by lawyers, bankers and other fixers who are supposed to be the pillars of our society and whose activities should be regulated to make sure they are not aiding and abetting corruption. 

Global Witness investigations show this dynamic at work, while our campaigns aim to close the loopholes which make it all possible. For example we showed how Natwest, Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS and HSBC all did business with corrupt Nigerian state governors, one of whom sunk some of his profits into four luxurious houses in north London. We asked if the right enquiries had been made about where the money came from or what was done to get hold of it. 

Global Witness is campaigning to end this by calling on Western governments to stop creating a safe haven for these corrupt individuals – by taking away their ability to travel to and store their assets in the West.  We will be demanding visa bans for those suspected of corruption, an end to the use of anonymous companies, and stronger regulation of the banks, lawyers and other facilitators who are laying out the red carpet for these brutal dictators and their dirty money.  Ultimately, we want to make it tougher for anyone in the world to engage in grand corruption.