THE SECRETIVE ELITE WE SHOULD BE PAYING ATTENTION TO
There is much talk of elites today. The word is loosely interpreted to mean any group which holds the kind of power and wealth that ordinary people do not possess. It can lead to some ugly outcomes, where particular groups are stigmatised without culpability. Yet this kind of elite does exist and it largely goes unmentioned.
Transparency International’s October 2019 At Your Service report suggests that more than £300bn of suspect funds have been channelled through UK banks, law firms and accountants before being spent on ludicrously expensive jewellery, clothing, art and property. This is a kleptocratic global elite that has stolen hundreds of billions of pounds of money, often, though not exclusively, from the state coffers of poorer nations that lack the systems and the resources to pursue wrongdoers.
The levels of corruption involved are hard to establish because we do not know what is being hidden or laundered. Much of the instability that some nations are subject to is being caused by the systematic plundering of the common purse by cynical, rapacious, well-placed individuals and families.
For Britons, one of the worst parts of this scandal is the role some UK services have played in the game. According to At Your Service, an analysis of more than four hundred bribery, corruption and money laundering cases found that 582 UK firms or individuals had helped rich people bring dubious money into the country. The UK prides itself on the service industry, but the evidence is mounting up that some of our firms are willing to turn a blind eye at best, and be knowingly complicit at worst, in the theft of money that leaves millions from other nations more impoverished and vulnerable. This should be one of the UK’s biggest sources of shame, but it hardly registers.
Shell companies facilitate the flow of illegal money – mere apparitions that have no substance to them, other than to enable corruption. The outcome is a procession of ‘shell’ nations, that have been hollowed out by the avarice of a few.
Oliver Bullough, in the book Moneyland (Profile Books 2018) has done a remarkably good job of uncovering the extent of global fraud. The more innumerate among us might be reluctant to delve into a book full of figures, but with an eye for story, Bullough has created a flowing narrative that brings a difficult subject to life. His thesis, that laws have national boundaries but finance has none, shows how hard it is to bring perpetrators to justice without comprehensive transnational jurisdictions. Some progress is being made in this, but, with the aid of professionals, the criminals are usually one step ahead. With Britain leaving the EU, the hope must be the nation does not become an even more willing recipient of what Bullough calls ‘evil’ money in an attempt to do business with the rest of the world.
As with beauty, human beings are beguiled by wealth and do not ask to see the character that lies beneath it. Jesus took a harder nosed view of its nature. Pink Floyd once sang that money is the root of all evil, but this was a serious misquote of scripture, which sees the love of money as a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6: 10).
Wealth is a good thing, or at least it should be. It can glue us together in shared richness. But it can also guillotine us brutally in two. Right now, in large parts of the world, there is no doubt which view of wealth is winning.
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