One of the key features of contemporary transnational kleptocracy is how routine and commonplace it has become. Unlike their strictly illicit counterparts—narcotraffickers, smugglers, and terrorists—who operate in the shadows and conceal their transactions, the modern kleptocrat is able to openly embrace many of the innovations, institutions, and protections afforded by contemporary globalization.
Today’s kleptocrats handle two challenges: laundering their ill-gotten gains and managing their international reputations. Key to these twin “laundering” processes is the role played by their brokers and intermediaries: lawyers, accountants, public relations specialists, second citizenship providers, real estate brokers, and wealth managers. These enablers, who are overwhelmingly based in Western financial centers, untether their clients’ profiles from the corruption in their home country that originally gave rise to their wealth, and recast them as enlightened world leaders, generous international philanthropists, and cosmopolitan citizens. In doing so, kleptocrats and their enablers manipulate international norms related to the rule of law and democratic openness.
Despite—or perhaps because of—the “everyday nature” of these routine professional services, scholarship on the transnational workings of kleptocratic networks remains underdeveloped. Scholars and policymakers tend to think of individual countries as relatively “corrupt” or “clean”, rather than focusing on the transnational networks and global service sectors that enable kleptocracy. Obtaining systematic data and examples of money and reputation laundering is difficult, especially in areas where confidentiality and discretion are closely guarded by service professionals. Writing about it can be challenging given the defamation lawyers and image managers that are often hired to fiercely defend kleptocrats’ public profiles. And because kleptocrats can hide behind legal mechanisms that provide a veneer of legitimacy, information about kleptocratic dealings can be difficult for scholars to obtain and study.
Read the full article here, in the Power3.0 Understanding Modern Authoritarian Influence, February 6, 2018