Since Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year, there has been a renewed interest in the wealth and influence of Russian oligarchs in the U.K. Moscow’s elites have bought mansions in London’s ultra-exclusive neighborhoods and send their children to British private schools. But Russians are not the only ones taking advantage of Britain’s willingness to turn a blind eye to overseas corruption. Investigative journalist Oliver Bullough is the author of “Butler to the World: How Britain Became the Servant of Tycoons, Tax Dodgers, Kleptocrats and Criminals.” In this podcast, he talks to New Lines’ Faisal Al Yafai about how London has grown into the world’s kleptocracy capital — by providing the world’s wealthiest not only a place to hide their stolen money but also to spend it with no questions asked.
“The money ends up in London for the simple reason that if it comes to London. It’s safe,” Bullough explains. “It’s not only protected by British courts, but it’s unlikely to be investigated by any British enforcement agencies because they don’t have the resources to do the job.”Chronic underfunding and disinterest on the part of authorities mean that anti-corruption laws routinely go unenforced.
The origins of the problem lie in the Suez Crisis and the disastrous 1956 war with Egypt. “This is essentially Britain’s post-imperial business model,” says Bullough. Once the center of the world’s largest empire, a beleaguered Britain emerged from World War II as a country laden with debt and looking to reinvent its place in the world. So it turned its focus to developing its offshore economy. But the lack of regulation also proved attractive to oligarchs and kleptocrats, making it easy for them to use London’s banks to launder their stolen wealth — and to spend it. “We are no longer building an empire on our own account,” says Bullough. “We’re just advising other people on how to build their own empires.”
Produced by Joshua Martin & Christin El Kholy