My first reaction when I read the secret details from the Pandora Papers about how the rich of the world hide their assets was: What else is new?
Do we need 11.9 million leaked documents from 14 companies in the offshore financial services industry and an international consortium of investigative journalists including media partners like the Washington Post to tell us that Vladimir Putin’s alleged mistress bought a luxury apartment in Monaco? Or that the King of Jordan amassed $ 100 million in hidden assets in Malibu, California, London and Washington? Ditto for Azerbaijan or Kenya?
The corruption of the Kremlin under Putin and his oligarchs is legendary, and any Jordanian can talk about financial matters at the royal palace. Is anyone surprised when investigators claim to have information on more than 330 politicians and officials from over 90 countries and territories, including many leaders?
No, because we – including me – have become too used to this stuff. In 2016, the Panama Papers, a similar investigative journalism, exposed corruption in the offshore banking sector, and nothing happened. Now the Pandora Papers claim to have twice as many public officials. So?
Indeed, the spiral of public corruption has not only become the new normal overseas, but it has taken hold at home, where the Trump presidency has made it a central part of the White House. In fact, what bothered me the most, in my first reading of the details of the Pandora Papers, is that they don’t focus enough on corruption here.
So I turned to Sarah Chayes, a great expert on global and American corruption networks and the links between them and author of “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, followed by On Corruption in America, and What Is at Stake “.
“I am disappointed with the anti-corruption movement for not understanding how we parallel corruption in other countries,” she told me, “and for not attacking power structures corruption in our own [Western] countries.”
Chayes came up against ties between the corruption networks of the United States and the developing world in Afghanistan, where I first met her in 2009 in Kabul dressed in military fatigues. She had previously led a development organization in Kandahar for several years, then helped establish an anti-corruption task force as special advisor to General Stanley McChrystal, commander of international troops in Afghanistan.
Its anti-corruption efforts, and those of the military officials who supported it, have been thwarted by networks of Afghan officials, who have re-invented those close to them as businessmen, and by US policies that have fueled heaps of corruption. money to these Afghan networks for help and training.
What she learned there indicates how she views the Pandora Papers presentation.
US aid officials knew their money was disappearing, but never explored the connections between Afghan ministers and governors and business leaders who bid on US contracts. American contractors and consultants increased their budgets and proposed projects that were clearly impractical but cost them heavy overheads.
The Afghan elites were grouped into networks of political leaders, businessmen and criminals. “They were incredibly successful in getting rich,” she said, “but weren’t even trying to rule.”
These corrupt networks were similar to the Kremlin elites, where oligarchs close to Putin fatten the state in networks intermingled with criminals who often act as executioners. Similar patterns undoubtedly correspond to the rulers of other failed states incriminated by the Pandora Papers.
“Afghanistan brings it all together in a deep way,” says Chayes, who recently wrote a Foreign Affairs article titled “Afghanistan’s Corruption Was Made in America. “It wasn’t just a foreign policy disaster. It is a mirror of our system, which is more corrupt than many of us are willing to admit.
Chayes worries that the focus on corruption abroad “reinforces the idea that the kleptocrats are out there.” It’s a way to distance yourself. “
It distracts Americans from a series of immense economic and military failures caused by networks of businessmen, entrepreneurs, deregulators and politicians dating back to the 1980s.
Who remembers the deregulation of the Reagan era that led to the collapse of the savings and loan industry? Or the Clinton-era prostration to the reckless bankers who brought us the 2008 financial crisis? It almost led to the collapse of the world economy and cost millions of Americans their homes, but never led to the conviction of a single banker.
U.S. networks, Chayes says, include officials in a Department of Defense procurement system where former senior officials turn to companies that get big government contracts. The networks also include the wealthiest donors in what has become a paid political system, encouraged by the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling.
And the corruption network focused for four years in a Trump White House where the former president actually made pay-to-play official policy, encouraging US and foreign politicians to stay in his hotels, resorts and golf courses while refusing to divest. of its assets or disclose its tax returns.
So it’s good that the Pandora Papers open the box to foreign states and their offshore havens, but better to focus on American corruption. Let’s lay bare more than one South Dakota tax haven. Let’s examine the corruption networks that endanger America’s political future, accelerate environmental catastrophe, and prolong the pandemic – before we also become a failed state.
Trudy Rubin is a columnist and member of the editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers can write to her at: Philadelphia Inquirer, PO Box 8263, Philadelphia, PA 19101, or by email at trubinphillynews.com.