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Rotten to the Core

September 14, 2020 - 19:52 -- Admin

The UK’s economic
and political life revolves around corruption.

By George
Monbiot, published in the Guardian 11th September 2020

Fear,
shame, embarrassment: these brakes no longer apply. The government has
discovered that it can bluster through any scandal. No minister need resign. No
one need apologise. No one need explain.

As public
outrage grows over the billions of pounds of coronavirus contracts issued by
the government without competition, it seems determined only to award more of
them. Never mind that the consulting company Deloitte, whose personnel
circulate in and out of government, has been strongly criticised for the disastrous system it devised to supply protective equipment to
the NHS. It has now been granted a massive new contract to test the population for Covid-19.

Never mind that
untendered contracts with firms that had no previous experience in supplying
medical equipment have left us with vast piles of substandard PPE that can’t be
used. Never mind that, Byline Times has reported, one of these contracts has cost taxpayers £800 for every medical gown
it has delivered. Never mind that at least two multi-million pound contracts have been issued to dormant companies. Awarding
contracts to unusual companies, without advertising, transparency or
competition now appears to have been adopted as the norm. Several of the firms that have benefited from this largesse are closely linked to senior figures in the government.

Every
week, Boris Johnson looks more like George I, under whose government vast fortunes
were made by political favourites, through monopoly contracts for military
procurement. Any pretence of fiscal rectitude or democratic accountability has
been abandoned. With four more years and the support of the billionaire press,
who cares?

The way
the government handles public money looks to me like an open invitation to
corruption. While it is hard to demonstrate that any individual deal is
corrupt, the framework under which this money is dispensed invites the
perception.

When you
connect the words corruption and the United Kingdom, people tend to respond
with shock and anger. Corruption, we believe, is something that happens abroad.
Indeed, if you check the rankings published by Transparency International, the UK
looks like one of the world’s cleanest countries. But this is an artefact of
the narrow criteria they use.

As Jason
Hickel points out in his book The Divide, theft by
officials in poorer nations amounts to between $20 and $40 billion a year. It’s
a lot of money, and it harms well-being and democracy in those countries. But
this figure is dwarfed by the illicit flows of money from poor and middling
nations that are organised by multinational companies and banks. The US
research group Global Financial Integrity estimates
that $1.1 trillion a year flows illegally out of poorer nations, stolen from
them through tax evasion and the transfer of money within corporations. This
practice costs sub-Saharan Africa around 6% of its GDP.

The looters
rely on secrecy regimes to process and hide their stolen money. The corporate
tax haven index
published by the Tax Justice Network shows
that the three countries that have done most to facilitate this theft are the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and the Cayman
Islands. All of them are British territories. Jersey, a British dependency,
comes seventh on the list. These places are effectively satellites of the City
of London. But because they are overseas, the City can benefit from ”nefarious activities … while allowing the British government to maintain
distance when scandals arise.” The City of London’s astonishing exemption from
the UK’s freedom of information laws creates an extra ring of secrecy.

The UK also appears to be the money-laundering capital of the world. In a devastating article for the Guardian, Oliver Bullough revealed how easy it has become to
hide your stolen loot and fraudulent schemes here, using a giant loophole in
company law: no one checks the ownership details you enter when creating your
company. You can, literally, call yourself Mickey Mouse, with a registered
address on Mars, and get away with it. Bullough discovered owners on the
Companies House site called “Xxx Stalin” and “Mr
Mmmmmm Xxxxxxxxxxx”, whose address was given as “Mmmmmmm, Mmmmmm, Mmm, MMM”. One investigation found that 4000 company
owners, according to their submitted details, were under the age of two.

By giving false identities, company owners in the UK can engage in the
industrial processing of dirty money, with no fear of getting caught. Even when
the UK’s company registration system was revealed as instrumental to the world’s biggest known money-laundering scheme, the Danske Bank scandal, the government turned a blind eye.

A new and
terrifying book by the Financial Times journalist Tom Burgis, Kleptopia, follows
a global current of dirty money, and the murders and kidnappings required to
sustain it. Again and again, he found, this money, though it might originate in
Russia, Africa or the Middle East, travels through London. The murders and kidnappings
don’t happen here, of course: our bankers have clean cuffs and manicured nails.
The National Crime Agency estimates that money
laundering costs the UK £100bn a year. But it makes the rich much more. With the money come people fleeing
the consequences of their crimes, welcomed into this country through the
government’s “golden visa” scheme: a red carpet laid out for the very rich.

None of
this features in the official definitions of corruption. Corruption is what
little people do. But kleptocrats in other countries are merely clients of the
bigger thieves in London. Processing everyone else’s corruption is the basis of
much of the wealth of this country. When you start to understand this, the
contention by the author of Gomorrah, Roberto Saviano, that the UK is
the most corrupt nation on Earth, begins
to make sense.

These
activities are a perpetuation of colonial looting: a means by which vast riches
are siphoned out of poorer countries and into the hands of the super-rich. The
UK’s great and unequal wealth was built on colonial robbery: the land and
labour stolen in Ireland, America and Africa, the humans stolen by slavery, the
$45 trillion bled from India.

Just as we
distanced ourselves from British slave plantations in the Caribbean, somehow believing that they
had nothing to do with us, now we distance ourselves from British organised
crime, much of which also happens in the Caribbean. The more you learn, the
more you realise that this is what it’s really about: grand larceny is the pole
around which British politics revolve.

A no-deal
Brexit, that Boris Johnson seems to favour, is
likely to cement the UK’s position as the global entrepot for organised crime.
When the EU’s feeble restraints are removed, under a government that seems
entirely uninterested in basic accountability, the message we send to the rest
of the world will be even clearer than it is today: come here to wash your
loot.

www.monbiot.com