To manage these investments and ensure that they are safe and secret, these kleptocrats and their cronies need facilitators: bankers, lawyers, auditors, real estate agents and other financial advisers from Wall Street, London, Zurich and more and more Dubai, the new favorite haven for Russian oligarchs who are now feeling the heat of sanctions in the UK. As was the case for Hosni Mubarak and his sons, Swiss banks are popular partners, who in turn transfer huge amounts of cash through their wealth management departments to global financial markets. Switzerland, however, has to compete with some of the world’s largest banks headquartered in Europe and the United States. When on rare occasions they are prosecuted by the US Department of Justice for money laundering, they agree to settle for fines. Not a single president or CEO of a major bank who has been caught in such a situation has been personally sued or forced to resign. Fines are just a cost of doing business.
The United States and Western Europe only fully recognized the folly of their policy of complicity with Russia when it was too late, after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. They imposed major sanctions on Russian banks and companies, as well as individual oligarchs and Russian officials, as several EU countries sought to reduce their dependence on Russian oil and gas. . At the same time, the United States announced that it was increasing funds for law enforcement to prosecute money launderers and finalizing regulations to ensure that the Treasury Department could more easily obtain the identity of beneficial owners of holding companies, so often used for corrupt purposes. . Other anti-corruption measures are also under consideration.
But the only target of Western governments when it comes to foreign corruption should not be Russia. Ignoring corruption in the Middle East only strengthens kleptocratic Arab regimes, making them feel more secure in supporting the West as they rack up more ill-gotten gains and rule with impunity. Inevitably, this reinforces the hubris of some of these leaders and their desire to expand their power, with all sorts of destabilizing consequences in the region, starting with the brutal domestic repression under MBS in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi war crimes in neighboring Yemen.
Kushner receives his money. The Mubarak family receives their money. Meanwhile, American aid continues to flow. Egypt has received more than $50 billion in military aid and $30 billion in economic aid from the United States since 1978. A slight reduction in annual US aid of $130 million this year to protest against Egypt’s human rights abuses lost all credibility when the Biden administration backed a new Arms sale for 2.5 billion dollars to the Egyptian government.
Instead of looking the other way or even aiding corruption among their allies and partners in the Arab world, US officials and even Western governments should attack the common sense expressed by Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, who reflects on his more than 30 years as a diplomat in his new memoir, Lessons on board. “At least in principle, our values and interests are nowhere more aligned than when it comes to fighting corruption,” she writes. “When leaders see their positions in government as sinecures serving their personal interests rather than those of their constituents, it not only contravenes our values, but also our interests, especially our long-term interests.”