CNBC Follows the Trail of International Corruption and Money Laundering to a Shocking Tax Haven… the United States
February 13th, 2012The Oblates have been working with other members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) to counter tax havens through dialogs with international financial institutions. OMI is also a member of FACT coalition (Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency Campaign) and Tax Justice Network USA. A new one-hour documentary by CNBC Investigations, Inc., reported by CNBC Senior Correspondent Scott Cohn, focuses on the issue.
White tigers, private jets, multi-million dollar mansions in the most luxurious spots on earth – all paid for with money that critics say was stolen by the ruling families of oil-rich nations. There are estimates that corruption worldwide costs as much as $1.5 trillion a year. In many countries, the ruling families simply take what they want, living lives of luxury while their people face poverty and oppression.
On Thursday, February 23rd at 9PM ET/PT, CNBC will present “Filthy Rich,” a one-hour original documentary reported by award-winning Senior Correspondent Scott Cohn and the CNBC Investigations Inc. team. They follow the money around the globe to Dubai, London, Paris and the United States, which is fast becoming a place for the Filthy Rich to hide their wealth.
One way to hide illicit assets is through shell corporations. While many people are familiar with traditional havens like the Cayman Islands and Panama, the United States is one of just a handful of countries that allow the formation of companies without disclosing the true owner. In many states, forming shell companies is literally a cottage industry. “Filthy Rich” introduces viewers to a Nevada man who claims “there is no better way to cloak your assets from public view” than to set up a corporation through him. He operates a business in his house—which is home to more than 2,000 Nevada corporations—and says he has no way of knowing whether any of them are conduits for dirty money. That is because he takes pride in not asking too many questions and, for an additional fee, also offers to put his name on the official documents.
Cohn questions Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller who takes pride in the fact that his state is now second per capita to Delaware in the number of corporations based there, as well as U.S. Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, who says states are becoming conduits for foreign corruption.
The Filthy Rich hail from all over the world and CNBC profiles a number of them, including the Obiang family from the tiny West African nation of Equatorial Guinea that used shell companies and California banks to buy tens of millions of dollars’ worth of luxury cars, jewelry, real estate and even Michael Jackson’s crystal studded glove valued at $275,000. The CNBC investigation takes Cohn to Baku, Azerbaijan, a former Soviet Republic on the shores of the Caspian Sea. In a nation where the average citizen makes $420 a month, the family of President Ilham Aliyev has accumulated property and business interests around the world that are worth millions. The Aliyev children, the youngest of whom is 13, are said to own $75 million worth of real estate in Dubai. Cohn also travels to Paris, the city of lights and playground for the ousted President of Tunisia, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, so Filthy Rich that his regime touched off Arab Spring. Even as his regime began to crumble, Ben Ali and his family were still buying homes in Paris.
A common thread among the Filthy Rich is oil, and that forces U.S. officials to walk a fine line. CNBC shows how a succession of administrations—and companies—have been forced to choose between American interests and American values. But with resentment boiling over around the world and the protests of Arab Spring drawing worldwide attention, a crackdown has begun. In France, two non-profit groups—Sherpa and Transparency International—persuaded the nation’s highest court to order a first-of-its-kind investigation that has already led to the seizure of the Obiang family’s fleet of luxury cars. And the U.S. Justice Department is escalating its so-called “Kleptocracy Initiative” launched in 2010. Cohn sits down with a number of U.S. officials including Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer who heads the project chasing billions of assets around the world. The task is massive because as long as there are riches to be had, there will be some who are Filthy Rich.
For more information including slideshows and web extras, visit: filthyrich.cnbc.com.
Scott Matthews is Vice President of Business News Specials. Jeff Pohlman is senior producer. Catherine Corrigan is producer. Nikhil Deogun is Senior Vice President and Editor in Chief Business News, CNBC.
CNBC’s “Filthy Rich” will re-air on Thursday, February 23rd at 10PM ET/PT.