I know what it’s like to piss off the wealthy. For the past decade, I’ve been fighting to expose the crimes of one of the most powerful men in the world, Russian president Vladimir Putin. I have been hounded, raided, sued, arrested, and deemed a threat to national security. My friends and colleagues have been intimidated, beaten, or worse. All of this to prevent us from exposing the criminal enterprise that Putin has established to loot his own country and tighten his grip on the reins of unchecked power.
I wish I could say my story is unique, but that could not be further from the truth. In nearly every country on earth—east to west, democracy to dictatorship—there exists an underbelly of unscrupulous actors who operate as if they are above the law and, in many cases, are the law. And they don’t commit their crimes alone. Criminals do business with other criminals, and the interconnectivity of our modern world appears to be fomenting a global power-grab unprecedented in human history.
But for every villain, there is a hero. For every extortionist, a whistleblower. For every thug, a journalist committed to protecting the most vulnerable and shining a light into the darkness that hides corruption from public scrutiny.
The writers in this series often take great risks to drag corruption out of the shadows and into the light. These are our guardians, holding at bay the nefarious concentration of power and the hoarders of our ever-diminishing resources.
For “Did the Heir to the Red Bull Empire Get Away with Murder?” Martha Mendoza investigates a globe-trotting playboy known as “Boss” who had an arrest warrant issued against him for allegedly killing a veteran Bangkok police officer in a 2012 hit-and-run. A scion of one of Thailand’s richest families, Boss is still free, having apparently used his wealth and connections as a shield from justice.
The French cement giant Lafarge was discovered to have been paying millions in protection money to armed factions to keep their Syria factory open in the midst of a raging civil war. In “When the Cost of Doing Business Means Funding Terror Groups,” Dorothée Myriam Kellou exposes how the company endangered the lives of its employees and may have had a hand in funding the Islamic State.
When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police first charged Quebec construction company SNC-Lavalin for bribing officials in the government of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, relatively few people took notice. Martin Patriquin lays out the extent of this corruption case, and how efforts by the Canadian government to defer prosecution led to a political scandal.
“China’s False War on Corruption” looks at the failure of an entire government as it clings to a culture of corruption. China’s anti-corruption campaign was meant to address a source of the country’s dramatic level of income inequality. Instead, reporter Echo Hui writes, the anti-corruption agency seems to have become susceptible to corruption itself, as China sinks deeper into government malfeasance masked by a culture of intimidation and increased suppression of public dissent and free press.
Political leaders personally taking advantage of their power may be the most galling of all forms of corruption, and this series offers two dramatic examples. With “How Vladimir Putin’s Regime Uses the Climate Crisis to Get Rich,” Paul Watson pulls back the curtain on Vladimir Putin’s ambitions in the Arctic, an area rich in natural resources whose control will influence the future of the global economy.
And in “Why Corruption Killed Dreams of a Better South Africa,” William Gumede writes about former president Jacob Zuma, who faces multiple corruption charges and has ties to a family that has been accused of being part of a widespread corruption scheme involving fraud, money laundering, and racketeering.
Then there’s the complex case of “The Corruption Scandal that Shook Latin America,” which Stephanie Nolen details in her examination of the massive, intricate web of financial crimes that has implicated businesses and governments throughout Latin America and around the world. But this win at curtailing a global web of corporate and government vice has turned into a loss, as the very people who went after the corrupt businesses and politicians appear to have been politically motivated themselves.
My own experiences have inspired me to lobby governments around the world to pass laws in honour of my friend and tax attorney Sergei Magnitsky, who landed in a Moscow prison after testifying against Russian authorities. Magnitsky paid with his life, dying behind bars after being brutally beaten. In 2012, the US Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which provides sanctions against human rights offenders and allows for their assets to be frozen. I have since worked with the governments of Canada, the UK, and several Baltic countries to pass similar laws. My priority now is to get France to pass such a law, which would target the oligarchs who hide in penthouses along the Seine and in villas on the Côte d’Azur.
In the face of dereliction and lawlessness at the highest levels of government and industry, a series like “Dirty Money: Seven Cases of Global Corruption” may seem an inadequate effort, little more than a candle trying to illuminate the cosmos. But every inferno begins as a single flame, and the small points of light these authors bring to the darkness are crucial guideposts to combatting the atrocities of the moneyed elite and mending the breaches of trust between governments and the people they claim to represent.