Almost a year ago, the UK government convened a global summit to commit to fighting corruption. The final communiqué from the governments involved summed up their historic intentions: “We want to send a clear signal to the corrupt that they will face consequences internationally. We want to make it harder for them to travel and do business in our countries.”
The time for sending signals is over. It is time to act against the kind of corruption that enables governments and armed groups especially in east and central Africa – the deadliest interlinked zone of conflict in the world – to prosecute wars and carry outmass atrocities.
The British government’s 2015 assessment of money laundering and terror-financing risks underscores how acting against corruption can prevent conflict. “The laundering of proceeds of overseas corruption into or through the UK fuels political instability in key partner countries. The National Crime Agency judges that billions of pounds of suspected proceeds of corruption are laundered through the UK each year.”
Yet for too long the international community has failed to fully deploy the anti-money laundering measures, targeted sanctions and other tools of financial pressure at its disposal. These tools were developed to fight terrorism, nuclear proliferation and organised crime, and they have impact. We formed The Sentry, an organisation which has established a team of analysts, regional experts and financial forensic investigators who follow the money to disrupt corrupt networks responsible for genocide or other mass atrocities in Africa. They focus on gathering the evidence that can enable law enforcement and banks to act. Used in the right way, this such information can create immense leverage for peace and human rights, as well as addressing the root cause of the massive refugee flows to Europe: the violent kleptocratic regimes that deny opportunities to their young people.
In the course of our investigations, we routinely find that European nationals are engaged in or are facilitating high-level corruption or illicit trade in natural resources. This goes beyond business workers who pay bribes. A wide range of arms dealers, accountants, lawyers, banks, incorporation agents, and others who facilitate kleptocracy are based in Europe. They acquire European property, routinely travel to the continent and rely on British and EU banks.
The money stolen to procure lethal weapons normally moves through the international financial system – the preferred currencies are US dollars, euros and sterling. The banks they use are virtually always connected to London – or New York-based banks through correspondent relationships. That means the illicit funds they move offshore often transit through Britain or the US, even if only for a split second. That provides sufficient jurisdiction to act.
UK and European authorities have demonstrated that they are willing to tackle overseas corruption and hold those responsible accountable. The UK has been a leader in using law enforcement actions to tackle overseas corruption, as shown by the robust enforcement of the Bribery Act 2010, Fraud Act 2006, and Modern Slavery Act 2015. The European Union recently placed seven Congolese officials under sanctions, effectively preventing them from travelling to Europe or conducting business with any citizens of EU member states, which helped pressure Congo-Brazzaville to agree to a timetable for elections that prevented widespread violence. These kinds of financial-pressure measures can help save lives.
But more must be done, particularly in the banking sector. We know those directly responsible for conflict and atrocities cannot be shamed, and their assets may be hard to impede. But banks can be shamed, fined and prosecuted to compel them to act and stop the flow of corrupt money that enables conflict.
Our team is gathering the evidence needed, and thanks to funding raised by the People’s Postcode Lottery, we’ve hired senior, experienced investigators in London and Brussels to expand our work.
We believe a real difference can be made in ending wars in Africa and the mass atrocities that accompany them if we target those that are benefiting financially from the mayhem and suffering. The UK government and the broader European Union have critical roles to play in changing the deadly status quo.