How dirty money subverts democracy

Investigative reporter Tom Burgis has written a book Kleptopia: How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World. He was interviewed on the public radio program IA and also in the Daily Beast about his book. I have not as yet read Burgis’s book but I earlier reviewed another book on the same topic Moneyland: The inside story of the crooks and kleptocrats who rule the world by another investigative journalist Oliver Bullough.

In the interview on IA he discussed what he saw as disturbing similarities between what is happening currently in the US and in other kleptocracies, especially Nigeria where has has lived. He said that in democracies where the elected leaders start enriching themselves and their cronies by abusing their power and at the expense of the people, they start using the country’s legal system to protect themselves and their fellow crooks. Then because they cannot afford to lose their power because of the possible repercussions, they start using the legal system to stifle any opposition by harassing and even arresting opposition figures, attacking the media, and suppressing the votes of those groups they think will not vote for them. Sound familiar?

He also says that the kleptocrats need to find ways to launder their money, to make the dirty money ‘clean’ so that then they can freely use it to support their luxurious lifestyles. One of the favored means is to buy pricey real estate in western countries where the legal protections for property owners are strong and so it is hard to get their ill-gotten money away from them. The US and the UK are highly sought locations.

This is why Trump is so enmeshed with shady oligarchs from these countries. He is just the kind of person they seek, someone who deals in real estate but who is always desperate for money to shore up his failing ventures and is thus open to dealing with people like this. Burgis mentions Felix Sater as one of those shady operators. (I wrote about Sater and his relationship to Trump back in 2017.)

I have been increasingly concerned about this as the election approaches. Trump simply cannot afford to lose in November because then he will no longer have his attorney general Bill Barr to protect him and Trump’s allies in Congress will lose much of their power, especially if the Republicans lose their Senate majority and remain a minority in the House of Representatives. There will be no one to shield Trump from the cavalcade of investigations that should follow his leaving office, unless Joe Biden weasels out and pardons him. Of course, there will be a huge uproar if Biden pardons Trump, just as there was when Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon after the latter resigned in disgrace. In that case Ford was from the same party as Nixon and there were strong suspicions that Nixon selected him as his vice president after Spiro Agnew’s resignation after making a secret deal that Ford would pardon him.

So why might Biden pardon him? It sounds unthinkable now but presidents like to preserve their own immunity and one way to do that is by establishing the idea that past presidents should not be prosecuted for any crimes that they committed because that would open the door to their own prosecution when they leave office. So if he does pardon Trump, we may hear a lot of claptrap about ‘the need to heal’ and ‘we need to look to the future rather than the past’, the weasel words Barack Obama used to justify his decision to not prosecute the many potential war crimes that were committed under the Bush-Cheney regime.

Tellingly, notice that even though Trump hates Obama with a passion and seeks to undo everything Obama implemented while in office, he has carefully avoided urging the prosecution of Obama for anything, even his potential war crimes involving the use of drones to kill innocent people. Instead Trump has gone after Hillary Clinton and Hunter Biden. The leaders of countries tend to form a self-protective clique.


  1. kestrel says

    Here is hoping he’s voted out. I am doing my part, that’s about all I can do at this point.

    I am not sure of the legality but I had thought that the one thing, impeachment, can not be pardoned. That may be all that sticks to this slippery eel since I too expect he’ll get pardoned, even though he absolutely should not be pardoned, in my view. That’s assuming he loses and will admit it.

  2. Curt Sampson says

    Even if Biden does pardon Trump, that affects only federal crimes, not state ones. Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. appears to be digging away at making cases for things that could be prosecuted under state law.

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