Unravelling the Secrets of Corruption

Article excerpt

In the aftermath of the revolution sweeping North Africa (See Cover Story, page 14) it has been announced that a thorough investigation will be conducted into the corruption that allowed Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak and their families to embezzle millions of dollars of public money to feather their nests abroad.

The public in both countries want the investigations to go as deep as possible and also examine the links between those holding political power and businesses which profited from those links. They also want investigations and clarity on how the corruption was conducted, the methods used and a naming of the individuals and organisations that collaborated in the grand larceny. They want to know who did what, how they did it, where and when, and an accurate accounting of the sums involved.

This will not be an easy task and is very likely to take a long time and cost a considerable amount of public money. But it will be well worth the exercise.

Corruption using the organs and power of the state has developed into one of the developing world's most sophisticated and lucrative industries.

It involves a cast of thousands--some based at home and many others scattered over the world. Some of the leading facilitators include highly skilled lawyers and accountants. Well-heeled 'fixers' with political and business connections in the world's corridors of power display magical sleights of hand--making fortunes disappear from one place only to reappear somewhere else, while others sweep the tracks clean.

Dealing in cash is left to the lower ranks--corrupt policemen, administrators, licence-issuing and customs officers, regulatory clerks, basic-level magistrates and so on.

The 'graduates' deal in another coin as it were. Commissions worth millions, often involving 'respected' foreign partners, whizz seamlessly and invisibly through a bewildering network of accounts in several countries before finally 'landing' in the form of high-value properties at choice locations around the world.

The traditional numbered Swiss bank account has been losing its appeal ever since the Swiss authorities have taken to freezing accounts of leaders who lose their position--as they have done in the case of Ben Ali and Mubarak.

At the domestic level, as illustrated by the criminal antics of Tunisia's former First Lady, Leila Trabelsi, and her relatives, the fashion has been to seize shares--sometimes as much as 50%--of successful companies and then sit back and watch the money roll in. …