Former Cayman Islands banking insider Robert Landori joined Ian Punnett for a discussion on the mega-trillion-dollar world of offshore banking and money laundering as well as the movers, shakers, con-men, and criminals who inhabit it. He explained that the popularity of off-shore banking is twofold: the accounts are secret, thus protecting them from oversight, and, as such, the account holder does not have to pay taxes on interest that is earned. While laws have been enacted to try and curb the use of off-shore banking to avoid paying taxes, he observed that these regulations are "very elastically interpreted." Over the course of the evening, Landori also shared the story of being arrested for espionage in Cuba and detailed Hawala, a shadowy method of transferring money.
Despite the popular notion that off-shore banking is a haven for white collar criminals, Landori actually contended that drug cartels and terrorists as the two main groups that are laundering money in secret banks accounts around the world. These nefarious forces, he claimed, account for a stunning thirteen trillion dollars circulating "in these secret jurisdictions." Remarkably, he said, that massive figure only accounts for the illegal transactions being done via off-shore banking.. On why organizations like the CIA and MI6 do not police this activity, Landori asserted that they, too, use the system to facilitate their covert operations. Navigating the maze of illegal money laundering is made all the more difficult, he explained, because there are "thirty-six or thirty-seven legitimate off-shore banking centers" throughout the world.
Landori also shared a shocking example of money laundering that was revealed in recent years. According to him, soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, a US company of Marines were patrolling on the outskirts of Baghdad. Stopping to take a break inside an abandoned villa, they noticed that the wall was wet and promptly knocked it down to investigate. The soldiers were stunned to find $600 million dollars in shrink-wrapped bundles hidden in a secret room. Landori alleged that this massive amount of money was gleaned by Hussein via the "oil for food program," since the Union Bank of Switzerland was in charge of distributing the funds. On why banks would participate in such a scheme, Landori intimated that they receive a proverbial piece of the action, to which he mused, "even a fraction of $600 million is a lot of money."
The Ocucaje Desert in Peru has turned into an unlikely battleground over a plethora of marine fossils exposed by harsh winds. Once part of the ocean floor, today the desert is one of the world's most abundant locations for rare prehistoric sea creature fossils. However, with scant law enforcement to protect these national treasures, paleontologists are being forced to compete with fossil smugglers to procure the precious finds. More on the story at the New York Times.
Bumper music from Sunday December 12, 2010