AFRICANGLOBE – The world’s wealthy countries often criticise African nations for corruption – especially that perpetrated by those among the continent’s government and business leaders who abuse their positions by looting tens of billions of dollars in national assets or the profits from state-owned enterprises that could otherwise be used to relieve the plight of some of the world’s poorest peoples.
Yet the West is culpable too in that it often looks the other way when that same dirty money is channelled into bank accounts in Europe and the US.
International money laundering regulations are supposed to stop the proceeds of corruption being moved around the world in this way, but it seems the developed world’s financial system is far more tempted by the prospect of large cash injections than it should be.
Indeed the West even provides the getaway vehicles for this theft, in the shape of anonymous off-shore companies and investment entities, whose disguised ownership makes it too easy for the corrupt and dishonest to squirrel away stolen funds in bank accounts overseas.
This makes them nigh on impossible for investigators to trace, let alone recover.
It is something that has long bothered Zimbabwean journalist Stanley Kwenda - who cites the troubling case of the Marange diamond fields in the east of his country.
A few years ago rich deposits were discovered there which held out the promise of billions of dollars of revenue that could have filled the public purse and from there have been spent on much needed improvements to roads, schools and hospitals.
The surrounding region is one of the most impoverished in the country, desperate for the development that the profits from mining could bring. But as Kwenda found out from local community leader Malvern Mudiwa, this much anticipated bounty never appeared.
“When these diamonds came, they came as a God-given gift. So we thought now we are going to benefit from jobs, infrastructure, we thought maybe our roads were going to improve, so that generations and generations will benefit from this, not one individual. But what is happening, honestly, honestly it’s a shame!”
What is happening is actually something of a mystery because though the mines are clearly in operation and producing billions of dollars worth of gems every year, little if any of it has ever been put into Zimbabwe’s state coffers.
True or not, it is clear that the country’s finance minister, Tendai Biti, has seen none of it. A representative of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which sits in uneasy coalition with ZANU-PF, he says he has no idea where it is going.
“We have got evidence of the quantities that are being mined, the quantities that are being exported but nothing is coming to the fiscus …. All I know is that it’s not coming to the treasury. So that is a self-evident question. It is not coming to us. That means someone is getting it. The person who is getting it is not getting it legally.”
Sadly, as Stanley Kwenda has realised, it is typical of a problem found all over Africa.
The continent is rich is natural resources that are being exploited for big profits, but the money is rarely used for the benefit of the people. Instead it goes to line the pockets of corrupt officials who then often smuggle it out to be deposited in secret offshore bank accounts in the developed world.
So who facilitates these transactions? And how and why does the developed world make it so easy to launder this dirty cash?
In this revealing investigation for Al Jazeera’s People & Power, Kwenda and the Ghanaian undercover journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, set off to find out. Posing as a corrupt Zimbabwean official and his lawyer, their probe takes them deep into the murky world of ‘corporate service providers’ - experts in the formation of company structures that allow the corrupt to circumvent lax international money laundering rules.
It just so happens that the pair’s enquiries take place in the Seychelles but, as they discover to their horror, they could just as easily be in any one of a number of offshore locations (or even in the major cities of Europe and the US) where anonymous companies can be set up for the express purpose of secretly moving money and keeping its origins hidden from prying eyes.