The privatisation of power and their laundromats for stolen money

“Kleptopia: How Dirty Money is Conquering the World” by Tom Burgis

This is Blacklist meets McMafia meets the investigation attempt in Billions. It is a fast-paced narration of a true story of the names that you’ve probably never heard of, but secretly controls a huge chunk of the world’s money.

The book reads like a spy novel and it is gripping right from the very beginning, with so many mind-blowing plot twists that prove the dirty money behind several world occurrences, from election rig in Zimbabwe, to Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal, that Saudi Ritz-Carlton Purge, to the acquisition of ABN Amro by Royal Bank of Scotland.

The story has everything, including the plunder of some countries’ assets, the privatisation of power, the usage of “front men” by dictators to manage their billions, the global money laundering network, assassination of political opponents, the jailing of whistleblowers, the prosecutions of “fall guy”, industrial espionage, bribery and extortion, fake suicide, love and kidnapping, dynastic marriage, a family fallout, stock market manipulation, and one particular chapter that explains how a certain American president fits in this network of schemes: not as someone literally implanted by Russia in the US as a puppet per se, as always suspected, but instead as one of the best in his role as a front or a launderer.

Ultimately, I read this book during Russian invasion on Ukraine, as I wanted to figure out why do the British government is so very reluctant to freeze Russian oligarchs’ assets? The key, as it turns out, lies in the difference between tax evasion and money laundering.

While tax evasion sucked money out of the country into tax havens, money laundering has the opposite effect of pumping money into the country. “If you could stop yourself thinking about its origins”, remarked Burgis, “those inflows of dirty money from around the world were just another source of investment into otherwise declining economies.”

And the City of London serves as the laundromat for oligarchs (such as the Trio for Nursultan Nazarbayev – the main focus of the book – or the Russian front men for Vladimir Putin) and their dirty money, where riches from the looting of the ex-Soviet states are sent to Britain and laundered into properties, stocks, businesses, cars, fashion, and other legitimate assets, including a football club.

Hence, the infamous nickname of Londongrad, Boris Johnson’s refusal to publish a parliamentary report on Russian interference in British politics, and the Tory government’s odd decisions in regards with their stance on Ukraine invasion and the sanctions toward Russia. Read the book, and it all adds up.

The book is 465 pages long but I’ve managed to read it cover to cover in just over 3 days as it is so damn engaging. It is with this in mind that I refrain to spill anymore details that could spoil the plot of the story for anyone who wants to read it, despite the massive urge to tell it all. So very highly recommended.