Other fish to fry
Laundering has been on the agenda for years because of its links with drug trafficking. The problem is the enormous amount of money generated by this illegal trade and that it quietly blends into other lucrative activities
SEPTEMBER 11 seems to have set off a somewhat quixotic campaign relying on the indiscriminate use of terror to rid the world of terror, "once and for all".
George Bush having already opened fire before then, environmental terror is an exception. So is financial terror, though for somewhat different reasons. As in the case of the aggressive pursuit of a number of other things that the United States anyway intended to do, September 11 was made use of to bring dirty money too onto the front burner.
Laundering has been on the agenda for years because of its links with drug trafficking. The problem is the enormous amount of money generated by this illegal trade; much larger than the GDP of many countries. Drug lords in, say, Columbia, could (and probably still can) pretty much buy up whoever they pleased, and eliminate the rest. A number of huge businesses, including gun-running, flourished under this benign umbrella.
But the problem is not easy to tackle, because this racket quietly blends into the other lucrative activities that contribute so much to the "wealth" of the American people. Mr. P. N. Dhar, then Private Secretary to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, once found himself wondering at the stark contrast between the sort of people who manned the PM's Secretariat and those who ran the PM's House. A colleague explained to him that though both sewage and water were necessary, it was better to keep the two flowing in different channels. Mr. Dhar must have chuckled at the thought that the "separate" pipes originated from a common pool. A bit like the mixture of milk and water sloshing around Birbal's well.
The point came across rather neatly in a November 1999 U.S. report on a sub-committee investigation into money laundering. Well-heeled clients tended to be so very sensitive about the use of their names that they did not want them to be circulated even within the Bank. Complex pyramids and mazes were therefore set up to completely obfuscate the ownership of sensitive accounts, thereby placing clients well beyond the reach of the law. Money from a variety of different sources was pooled from time to erase information about both its origin and its destination. Banks went in for "name-lending" from time to time to establish respectability or anonymity as required. The staff actually dealing with an account had no idea who owned the money, whence it came, or where it went. Safe under this umbrella, the brother of a president or sheikh, or the husband or wife of a prime minister or corporate big wig, was not only able to tuck away ex officio pickings for use in fair weather and foul, but could also make use of the opportunity to set up money laundering operations of their own!
Such cases are the rule where big money is concerned, not the exception. As one columnist put it, it is this has turned yesterday's poorly paid overworked accountants into the glamorous high fliers of today's world of Finance. The accountant was only required to keep accounts. The Finance boys, quite literally, "make" money; if you know what I mean.
Anyway, after September 11 someone whispered to George Bush that this racket too had taken on a vital importance. And so, like State, Defence, arms manufacturers and all the rest these boys too began rushing hither and thither in a flurry of real or pretended activity. Trouble is frontline Al Qaeda operations work with a slender budget, mostly parked in and moved through nominally legitimate banking channels. This is why such a hush descended when "ambulance-chasing" lawyers began urging September 11 victims to sue all the banks that "had handled terrorist money". In the end discretion prevailed over valour. It was decided to bush-whack only Islamic institutions, governments, businesses etc turning a blind eye to the trees in which they roosted; unless these too, Insha Allah, were Islamic.
Send this article to Friends by