- How the kleptocrats and oligarchs hunt civil society groups to the ends of the Earth: The carrot is charitable giving, the stick is SLAPP suits and cyberweapons.
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How the kleptocrats and oligarchs hunt civil society groups to the ends of the Earth (permalink)
It's a great time to be an oligarch! If you have accumulated a great fortune and wish to put whatever great crime lies behind it behind you, there is an army of fixers, lickspittles, thugs, reputation-launderers, procurers, henchmen, and other enablers who have turnkey solutions for laundering your reputation and keeping the unwashed from building a guillotine outside the gates of your compound.
The field of International Relations has studied the enemies of the Klept in detail: the Transnational Activist Network is a well-documented phenomenon. But far more poorly understood is the Transnational Uncivil Society Network, who will polish any turd of sufficient wealth to a high, professional gloss.
These TUSNs are the subject of a new, timely scholarly paper by Alexander Cooley, John Heathershaw and Ricard Soares de Oliveira: "Transnational Uncivil Society Networks: kleptocracy’s global fightback against liberal activism," published in last month's European Journal of International Relations:
The authors document how a collection of institutions – some coercive, others organized around good works – allow kleptocrats to take power, keep power, and use power. This includes "wealth managers, company providers, accounting firms, and international bankers" who create the complex financial structures that obscure the klept's wealth. It also includes "second citizenship managers and lawyers" that facilitate the klept's transnational nature, both to provide access to un-looted, prosperous places to visit, and boltholes to escape to in the face of coup or reform. It includes the real-estate brokers and other asset facilitators, who turn whole precincts of the world's greatest cities into empty safe-deposit boxes in the sky, while ensuring that footloose criminal elites always have a penthouse to perch in when they take a break from the desiccated husks they've drained dry back home.
Of course, it also includes the PR managers and philanthropic ventures that allow the klept to launder their reputation, to make themselves synonymous with good deeds rather than mass murder. Think here of how the Sacklers used charity to turn their family name into a synonym for culture and fine art, rather than death by opioid overdose:
Beyond providing comfort to "Politically Exposed Persons" and "High Net-Worth Individuals," TUSNs are concerned with neutralizing TANs. Activists in these transnational networks play an inside-outside game: in-country activists will recruit peers abroad to bring attention to the crimes of their local kleptocrats. These overseas partners target the klept in the places they go to play and spend, spoiling their fun – and if they succeed in getting corrupt leaders censured abroad, then in-country activists can leverage that bad press to fight the klept at home.
To fight this "Boomerang Effect," TUSNs seek to burnish corrupt officials' reputations abroad, getting their names on humanitarian prizes, beloved sports teams, cultural institutions and great universities. They seek to capture international governance institutions that might wrong-foot kleptocrats, co-opting them to enable and even celebrate looters.
When it comes to elite philanthropy, TUSNs are necessarily selective. Kleptocrats' foundations don't fund anti-kleptocratic groups – they stick to "education, public health, the environment and the arts." These domains steer clear of human rights questions that might implicate their benefactors. Russian oligarchs love children's charities and disability rights – provided they don't target the Russian state.
If charitable giving is reputation laundering's carrot, then "reputation management" is the laundry's stick. Think of organized copyfraudsters who clone websites that have criticized their clients, then backdate the articles, then accuse the originals of infringing copyright in order to get them de-listed from Google or taken offline altogether:
Reputation managers also spend a lot of time in court. In the UK – the world's leader in libel tourism, thanks to a legal system designed to let posh monsters sue muckraking journalists into silence – Russian oligarchs have perfected the art of forcing their critics to shut up and go away:
Indeed, London is a one-stop shop for the global klept, a place where forelock-tugging Renfields will buy you a Mayfair mansion under cover of a numbered company, sue your critics into silence, funnel your money into an anonymous Channel Islands account:
They'll sell you whole galleriesworth of "fine art" that you can have relocated to a climate-controlled container in a Swiss or Irish freeport:
They'll give your thick-as-pigshit progeny a PhD and never check to see whether he wrote his thesis himself:
Then they'll hook you up with a cyber-arms dealer to hunt your enemies by capturing their devices:
But don't let Brexit stop you from shopping for bargains on the continent. The Golden Passports of the EU – available in a variety of flavors, from Maltese to Cypriot to Portuguese – offer the discerning failson access to the luxury goods shops and fleshpots of 27 advanced economies, making it a favorite of the Khmer Riche – the junior klept of Cambodia's ruling faction:
But golden passports are for amateurs. Skilled klepts travel on diplomatic passports, which offer the twin benefits of free movement and consequence-free criminality, thanks to diplomatic immunity. The former Kazakh dictator's son-in-law enjoyed a freewheeling diplomatic life in Vienna; one daughter of the dictator of Tajikistan had a jolly time as an envoy to DC; another, London (where else?).
All this globetrotting serves a second purpose: when rival elites seize power back home and force the old guard into exile, those ex-monsters can show up in the lands they called their second homes and apply for asylum. It turns out that even bomb-the-boats UK will welcome any asylum seeker who enters via the private jet terminal at City Airport (to be fair, these "refugees" have extensive properties in Zone 1 and country places in the Home Counties, so they won't need housing).
This stuff works. After Kazakh state goons murdered at least 14 protesters at a Zhanaozen oil facility in 2011, human rights groups around the world took up the cause. But they were effectively neutralized by TUSNs, with former UK PM Tony Blair writing on behalf of the Kazakh government to the EU condemning any kind of international investigation into the mass killings (add "former Prime Ministers" to the list of commodities for sale in the UK to sufficiently well-resourced murderers).
The authors close their paper with two case-studies. The first is of the daughters of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov, Gulnara and Lola. And President Karimov was indeed a dictator: he trapped his population within his borders, forced them to use non-convertible scrip in place of money, and ordered the murder of hundreds of peaceful protesters, plunging the country into international isolation.
But while Uzbeks were sealed within their borders, Gulnara Karimov became an international player, running a complex network of businesses that mixed the products of the nation's oilfields with her family's fortune. She solicited – and received – bribes from Teliasonera, MTS and Vimpelcom, who were all vying for the contract to provide service in Uzbekistan. All told, she extracted more than $1b in bribes, laundering them through Latvia, Hong Kong and New York. She acquired real-estate in France and Switzerland, and her spree continued until her father collaborated with Uzbek security to seize her assets and place her under house-arrest.
Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva was Gulnara's estranged younger sister. She and her husband Timur Tillyaev ran the Dubai-based SecureTrade, which did extensive business with "opaque Scottish Limited Partnerships," laundering more than $127m in a single year to offshore accounts in the UAE and Switzerland. They acquired many luxe assets – a jet, a Californian villa, and an LA perfumier.
Lola styled herself as the face of the Karimovas abroad, a "philanthropist and cultural ambassador." She was a UNESCO ambassador and commissioned works of monumental art – and also sued the shit out of news outlets that reported factual matters about her family repressive activity at home. She organized AIDS charities in the name of Uzbekistan – even as her father was imprisoning a writer for publishing a book explaining how to have safer sex.
The second case-study is on Isabel dos Santos, "Africa's richest woman," daughter of Angolan dictator José Eduardo dos Santos. Isabel's vast fortune stemmed from her personal capture of vast swathes of the third-largest economy in Africa: "telecommunications, banking, diamonds, real estate and cement, among many others." Isabel enjoyed seemingly limitless access to state credit and co-investment, and was given first crack at newly deregulated industries. Foreign firms that invested in Angola were required to "partner" with Isabel's businesses.
Isabel claimed to be a "self-made woman" – a claim credulously parroted by the western press, including the FT. She used her homegrown fortune to become a major player abroad, especially in Portugal, where she was represented by the leading Portuguese law firm PLMJ. Her enablers are a who's who of corruption-loving lickspittles: McKinsey, Ernst and Young, Boston Consulting Group, and the Spanish BigLaw firm Uri Menendez.
Isabel cultivated a public facade of philanthropic giving and public spirited activism, serving as head of the Angolan Red Cross. She attended Davos and spoke at the LSE (she was also invited to Oxford, but her invitation was subsequently rescinded). On social media, she dismissed critics of her wealth and corruption as "colonialists," decrying their "racism" and "prejudice."
Isabel dos Santos's corrupt sources of wealth were finally, irrefutably exposed through the Luanda Leaks, in which the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists mapped the network of "top banks, management consultants and legal firms that were central to dos Santos’s operations."
Both case studies shed light on the network of brilliant, driven enablers and procurers without whom the world's greatest monsters would falter. It's a rare window on a secretive world, one that is poorly understood even by its inhabitants. As Michael Mechanic wrote in Jackpot, his 2021 book on vast, intergenerational fortunes, the winners of the lucky orifice lottery often lack any real understanding of how The Money is structured, grown and protected:
This point was reiterated by Abigail Disney, in a brave piece on what it's like to grow up subject to the oversight of these millionaires who babysit the children of billionaires:
This is an important contribution to the literature. We naturally focus on the ultrawealthy individuals whose reputations and fortunes are the subject of so much attention, but without the TUSNs, they would be largely helpless.
Hey look at this (permalink)
- Most of My Instagram Ads Are for Drugs, Stolen Credit Cards, Hacked Accounts, Counterfeit Money, and Weapons https://www.404media.co/instagram-ads-illegal-content-drugs-guns-hackers/
404 Media https://www.404media.co/ (h/t Waxy) (I subscribed!)
The New Gatekeepers: How Disney, Amazon, and Netflix Will Take Over Media https://www.wga.org/the-guild/advocacy/politics-public-policy-pac/the-new-gatekeepers-how-disney-amazon-and-netflix-will-take-over-media
This day in history (permalink)
#20yrsago BBC to put its entire archive online http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3177479.stm
#20yrsago Citytv invents live television blogging https://memex.craphound.com/2003/08/24/citytv-invents-live-television-blogging/
#20yrsago Save Christiania, August 30th march in Copenhagen https://memex.craphound.com/2003/08/24/save-christiania-august-30th-march-in-copenhagen/
#15yrsago Kids can’t “go out and play” anymore https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2008-may-15-oe-brooks15-story.html
#15yrsago Mickey Mouse bridges the culture war when teaching evolution to evangelical students https://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/24/education/24evolution.html
#10yrsago LOVEINT: NSA spooks illegally stalking their romantic interests https://www.wsj.com/articles/BL-WB-40005
#10yrsago Why it matters that you can’t own an electronic copy of the Oxford English Dictionary https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/aug/23/oxford-english-dictionary-future-digitally
#5yrsago Law and Order Republicans have suddenly discovered the undeniable injustice of “flipped” prosecution witnesses https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/yes-witnesses-flipping-does-corrupt-justice-but-not-because-theyre-rats/2018/08/23/c88871c4-a71e-11e8-a656-943eefab5daf_story.html
#5yrsago TSA racially profiles Muslim woman, makes her show her bloody sanitary towel https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/i-may-have-to-quit-harvard–because-the-tsa-wont-stop-searching-me/2018/08/14/0dbdbb72-9a55-11e8-b55e-5002300ef004_story.html
#5yrsago The Democratic Party is surging thanks to leftist policies, but its leadership are convinced they have to stop it https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-election-progressives/
#5yrsago Prisoners in 17 states are on strike, demanding an end to prison slavery and basic human justice https://theintercept.com/2018/08/21/prison-strike-2018-attica/
#5yrsago “Bad health care has killed more American artists than I can list” https://austinkleon.com/2018/08/18/single-issue-voter/
#5yrsago Britain is a money-launderer’s paradise, Part LXII https://www.buzzfeed.com/janebradley/shell-companies-money-laundering-uk-paul-manafort
#1yrago Trump gave Moderna all the patent-waivers it needed to make a vaccine https://pluralistic.net/2022/08/24/waivers-for-me-not-for-thee/#vaccine-apartheid
Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/)
- A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING
Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025
The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS FEB 2024
Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM
Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION
Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM
Latest podcast: The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation (audiobook outtake) https://craphound.com/news/2023/08/01/the-internet-con-how-to-seize-the-means-of-computation-audiobook-outtake/
- Burning Man Center Camp, 1430h, Aug 29
"The Internet Con" launch, Another Story Bookshop (Toronto), Sept 12
EFF Awards (San Francisco), Sept 14
Launch for "The Internet Con" and Brian Merchant's "Blood in the Machine," Chevalier's Books (LA), Sept 27
An Evening with VE Schwab (Boise), Oct 2
26th ACM Conference On Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing keynote (Minneapolis), Oct 16
- Gaslit Nation (pt 1)
Hurriquake! (This Week in Tech)
New Books Network
- "Red Team Blues": "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books http://redteamblues.com. Signed copies at Dark Delicacies (US): and Forbidden Planet (UK): https://forbiddenplanet.com/385004-red-team-blues-signed-edition-hardcover/.
"Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin", on how to unrig the markets for creative labor, Beacon Press/Scribe 2022 https://chokepointcapitalism.com
"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The Washington Post called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html
"How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59 (print edition: https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism/9781736205907) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)
"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html
"Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2682/Corey_Doctorow%3A_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer_HB.html#/.
- The Internet Con: A nonfiction book about interoperability and Big Tech, Verso, September 2023
The Lost Cause: a post-Green New Deal eco-topian novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias, Tor Books, November 2023
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