Africa and the War Against Offshore Finance

Real News Network’s Paul Jay interviews Léonce Ndikumana, Professor of Economics at the University of Massachussets – Amherst. He is the Director of the African Policy Program at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI). Originally published at RNN.

More at The Real News

Here’s what I see as the money quote:

[NDIKUMANA:] You also have to look at where the money is going. These banks are actually established in nations with rules, very clear rules about banking. When we say offshore centers, when we say secrecy jurisdictions, when we talk about banking secrecy, people may think that these are alien lands, in no-man lands, but actually you will be surprised to know, if you didn’t know—I’m sure you know, but for those who didn’t know, they will be surprised to hear that the biggest offshore centers are in countries like the U.K., in London, the U.S., in New York, Paris in France. These are the biggest offshore centers where you find banks colluding with corrupt leaders, corrupt private investors, in hiding and not disclosing their investments and their bank accounts, because some of it was acquired illegally, was transferred illegally, is held illegally in the sense that it’s not reported to the government.

Yeah, shocked, shocked, but this needs to be said over and over again. When I was picking this quote, I looked through the transcript for the qualifier that would distinguish “these banks” from the other, honest, banks. The ones that weren’t run by criminals. And oddly, or not, that qualifier wasn’t to be found…

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About Lambert Strether

Lambert Strether has been blogging, managing online communities, and doing system administration 24/7 since 2003, in Drupal and WordPress. Besides political economy and the political scene, he blogs about rhetoric, software engineering, permaculture, history, literature, local politics, international travel, food, and fixing stuff around the house. The nom de plume “Lambert Strether” comes from Henry James’s The Ambassadors: “Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.” You can follow him on Twitter at @lambertstrether.


  1. R Foreman

    I don’t think I’m terribly shocked. These are the same people who order their countries to war over natural resources, and perpetuate widespread social lies to avoid prison for themselves and their cronies.

    The difference between a George W. Bush and a Pol Pot is merely which country is more admired for its prosperity. They’re both cold-blooded mass-killers.

    1. MacCruiskeen

      Ordering your army to kill other people: good. Ordering your army to kill your own people: bad.

      1. Acmerecords

        Apparently unclear on the concept : when imperialists order their militaries to invade soverign states, they are without qualification ordering their own people to be executed – might want to watch kubrick’s ‘paths of glory’ for some education
        And: not disagreeing with you rforeman – I would add Obama to your list of casual killers

        ‘War kills civilians.
        War kills soldiers.
        War never kills politicians.
        War never kills industrialists.
        War never kills money lenders.
        War is wrong.’

  2. financial matters

    There is an interesting point made in ‘Treasure Islands’ by Nicholas Shaxson about how western tax havens encourage the flow of some of this financial capital in the hands of the African political leaders out of their countries…

    “”A much bigger transfer of wealth is occurring through illicit financial flows across borders from developing countries into secrecy jurisdictions and rich countries. The most comprehensive study of this comes from Raymond Baker’s Global Financial Integrity (GFI) Program at the Center for International Policy in Washington. Developing countries, GFI estimates in January 2011, lost a staggering $1.2 trillion in illicit financial flows in 2008 – losses that had been growing at 18 percent per year since 2000. Compare this to the $100 billion in total annual foreign aid, and it is easy to see why Baker concluded that “for every dollar that we have been generously handed out across the top of the table, we in the West have been taking back some $10 of illicit money under the table. There is no way to make this formula work anyone, poor or rich. Remember that the next time some bright economist wonders why aid to Africa is not working. We are clearly talking about one of the great stories of our age.””

  3. Susan the other

    Thanks Lambert. This answers my Bain question: why did Bain advise Citi not to break up because it would lose its tax loops. If Citi or any other Big divests itself of its international funnel it will no longer receive all that tax free money. If they move to Hong Kong will the tax authorities watch them more closely, or not at all as per usual?

  4. Patriot

    Elite money laundering is one of the key drivers of the financial system, and a handmaiden to complexity.

  5. David Petraitis

    While not condoning the hiding of accounts by dictators and criminals, I have to say that the US trying to stake out a moral high ground in this is laughable. Attempting to influence the US to pursue the dictators’ money through somehow attacking their accounts is naive.

    I used to live in Switzerland, and was forced to divulge account by account information to the IRS. I am now retired in the US and was forced to give up any bank accounts in Switzerland, though my retirement comes from there and my children still live there.

    The US has a clear contradiction in its policy towards foreign money. If you are an innocent US person earning money in a foreign country you are treated like a miscreant. If you are a foreign miscreant stashing your money in the US you are treated like a valued customer and not taxed.

    The US is trying very hard to punish it’s self-created and a priori guilty tax cheats (self-created since it is USA laws and IRS regulations that make it so) who hide heinously money offshore (think Romney?). This is a fiscal extraterritoriality, similar to the projection of power by drones. On the other hand the US and states make it easy for other countries’ tax cheats to open post box corporate entities (think Delaware and Mr. Biden) numbered and anonymous accounts (think Nevada and Mr. Reid) The people of foreign countries may not even be tax cheats since most other countries (except I have been told Somalia and the US) do not tax their citizens if they live in another country. Those incomes may or may not come from legal sources.

    The US wants to be the only one to play with these rules and would be shocked if e.g. Germany came knocking on the door of banks in America threatening them with dire consequences forcing banks to reveal if they had (or certify they don’t have) German account holders, requesting account by account level information, and imprisoning their executives if they ever set foot in Berlin. Things the US does do every year.

    To be clear, I believe that the US’ efforts to punish tax cheats misses the mark and harms innocent citizens and the US in at least 3 ways: US citizens are no longer in the running for international posts, neither as executives in multinationals nor as teachers of English as a foreign language in another country; their tax and financial reporting burdens are too high. US citizens are not welcome as customers in foreign banks or financial firms in any way – which exacerbates our trade deficit. And lastly the US’ heavy handedness and arrogant attitude will invite retaliation sooner or later, in one form or another.

    One last thing, there is a way in which corporations avoid taxation by not repatriating profits to the US, but leaving them in lower tax areas, which is illegal for individuals… corporate people are treated specially, now why does that not surprise me?

    1. jake chase

      Taxes is theft. Income taxes only exist at all to prevent the vast majority of the industrious and the lucky from joining the ranks of the rich. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of tax law understands that incomes of the rich are largely (and in some cases entirely) exempt, although serious juggling may be required to secure the exemptions in individual cases.

      The Income Tax and the Fed were the twin pillars of the con pepetrated by faux Progressive Morgan stooge Woodrow Wilson, who was only elected in 1912 because his sponsor arranged for another stooge, Theodore Roosevelt, to come out of mothballs as a third party candidate to split the Republican vote. The Income Tax and the Fed have kept the bankers securely in control ever since. And of course, the real players behind JP Morgan were the Rothschilds. Imagine that!

  6. enouf

    … because some of it was acquired illegally, was transferred illegally, is held illegally …

    [bold emphasis mine]

    Some of it? …


  7. AbbyNormal

    “In Venezuela Chavez has made the co-ops a top political priority, giving them first refusal on government contracts and offering them economic incentives to trade with one another. By 2006, there were roughly 100,000 co-operatives in the country, employing more than 700,000 workers. Many are pieces of state infrastructure – toll booths, highway maintenance, health clinics – handed over to the communities to run. It’s a reverse of the logic of government outsourcing – rather than auctioning off pieces of the state to large corporations and losing democratic control, the people who use the resources are given the power to manage them, creating, at least in theory, both jobs and more responsive public services. Chavez’s many critics have derided these initiatives as handouts and unfair subsidies, of course. Yet in an era when Halliburton treats the U.S. government as its personal ATM for six years, withdraws upward of $20 billion in Iraq contracts alone, refuses to hire local workers either on the Gulf coast or in Iraq, then expresses its gratitude to U.S. taxpayers by moving its corporate headquarters to Dubai (with all the attendant tax and legal benefits), Chavez’s direct subsidies to regular people look significantly less radical.” Naomi Klein

    1. financial matters

      Naomi Klein has a rare talent to dig out these sort of facts and put them in a proper perspective. She provides a brilliant and piercing counterpoint to the Washington Consensus.

      1. enouf

        Yep .. i’d go so far as to say; any USA Aggression allied (overtly, and most times covertly ; see “Confessions of an Economic Hitman”) towards the disdain (insert all in the list Fiver mentions here) of other Nations, is nothing but terr’sm — the US and State Constitutions are effectively Null and Void — Only the “Sovereigns” can reclaim the power.

        “Wrong is Right”

        (gah!!!.. i loathe bad bitrates! and horrible audio ….) .. If you dare – seek out “Fast As A Shark” (from the same band)


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