The Enablers: Dirty Money In "Clean" Countries

If money is laundered in a forest and no one is around to see it, is it still a crime? Yes, of course, it is. But more than that, you can't launder money in a forest, or anywhere else, without banks or other financial institutions willing to do the dirty work. And according to a new EU report seen by the Financial Times, a number of those banks are located within the European Union.


Recent big time scandals in Europe include, for example: the Latvian bank that bankrolled the North Korean nuclear program; the $8.3 billion in allegedly suspicious money from the former Soviet Union that flowed through the tiny Estonian branch of Danske Bank in a single year; and the $10 billion in Russian cash that Deutsche Bank laundered via “mirror trades" (which won the firm a fine of $640 million).

And of course it will surprise precisely no one to hear that over the past 10 years the London property market has soared to dizzying highs on cash infusions from corrupt leaders and business people with ties to the Middle East, Africa, and Russia. Earlier this year, British lawmakers launched an investigation into the matter, though chiefly in the context of growing tensions with Russia after the poisoning of a former KGB officer in the UK.

In fairness, Europe has particular challenges when it comes to stamping out dirty money. As the EU report seen by the FT points out, oversight bodies are understaffed, and regulation is decentralized. In a common economic bloc of 28 countries where regulatory supervision and enforcement varies, the EU's ability to tackle illicit money flows is only as good as the convictions of its weakest members. The Baltics and the Balkans stand out as particularly porous entry points for dirty money, but a report last year found that in two-thirds of EU countries firms are too lax in flagging suspicious cash. There have been calls for a centralized authority to not only assess how banks run, but also what they run. A single clearing house for oversight, information-sharing, and enforcement would obviously be a good step.

Until then, here's something to bear in mind: When we write about corruption, we often look chiefly at the countries where kickbacks and graft are a way of life. We cite the well-known Transparency International rankings that tell us that corruption is rife across much of Africa, the former Soviet Union, Latin America, and Asia – and that Russia and Mexico are the two most corrupt of the world's large economies. We rightly criticize leaders who enable, encourage, and thrive in these systems. And we write about how graft shapes voters and elections around the world.

But the point is that corruption thrives in “dirty" countries in no small measure because of financial institutions and banks in “clean" countries that are willing to play ball. It's good to shed light on corrupt actors, but the enablers of corruption are often closer to home than you might think.

Scientists, engineers and technologists are turning to nature in search of solutions to climate change. Biomimicry is now being applied in the energy sector, medicine, architecture, communications, transport and agriculture in a bid to make human life on this planet more sustainable and limit the impacts of global warming. New inventions have been inspired by humpback whales, kingfishers and mosquitoes.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

The drumbeat for regulating artificial intelligence (AI) is growing louder. Earlier this week, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google's parent company, Alphabet, became the latest high-profile Silicon Valley figure to call for governments to put guardrails around technologies that use huge amounts of (sometimes personal) data to teach computers how to identify faces, make decisions about mortgage applications, and myriad other tasks that previously relied on human brainpower.

More

January 27 marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi extermination camp. But even as some 40 heads of state gathered in Jerusalem this week to commemorate the six million Jews who were killed, a recent Pew survey revealed that many American adults don't know basic facts about the ethnic cleansing of Europe's Jews during the Second World War. Fewer than half of those polled knew how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and close to a third didn't know when it actually happened. Here's a look at some of the numbers.

1: The Greek parliament has elected a woman president for the first time since the country's independence some 200 years ago. A political outsider, Katerina Sakellaropoulou is a high court judge with no known party affiliation. "Our country enters the third decade of the 21st century with more optimism," Greece's prime minister said.

More

A quarantine in China– Local authorities have locked down the city of Wuhan, the source of the outbreak of a new and potentially deadly respiratory virus that, as of Thursday morning, had infected more than 540 people in at least six countries. Other nearby cities were also hit by travel restrictions. Rail and air traffic out of Wuhan has been halted. Public transportation is shut, and local officials are urging everyone to stay put unless they have a special need to travel. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people, many of whom were about to travel for the Chinese New Year. We're watching to see whether these extraordinary measures help stem the outbreak, but also to see how the people affected respond to the clampdown.

More