Countering Kleptocracy: December 21, 2022

Understanding transnational kleptocracy as a vehicle for theft, repression, and democratic erosion…and how we can respond. If you enjoy this newsletter, forward it to a friend or share on social media so that others can subscribe.


Image Credit: Shutterstock / Jo Panuwat D

A Year in review // December 21

As 2022 draws to a close, here is what you might have missed from the Forum, the NED family, and other leading researchers and activists (not published by NED)…

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought transnational kleptocracy to the forefront of democracy discourse. Analysis from NED and others reflects on the Kremlin’s kleptocratic networks and implications for Ukraine and beyond.


“We talk a lot about the Kremlin playbook on kleptocracy. But what we need is the democratic playbook on counter-kleptocracy.”

– Nate Sibley, Sustaining the Momentum: Countering Kleptocracy in Russia and Beyond


Oligarchs exploit rule-of-law systems around the world, posing a critical threat to global democracy. Check out our analysis on the strategies kleptocrats use to enrich themselves and their cronies, conceal the source of ill-gotten gains, and launder their reputations.

It has been an extraordinary year in the fight against kleptocracy. In the face of malign actors’ sophisticated arsenal, how can policymakers, researchers, and civil society stand up for democracy?

For more from the Forum, be sure to check out our Combating Transnational Kleptocracy hub, Power 3.0 blog and podcast, and translation hub housing counter-kleptocracy content in five languages.

Thank you for reading Countering Kleptocracy. We will see you in 2023!

European Court of Justice Rolls Back Transparency of Beneficial Ownership

The Court of Justice of the European Union repealed a 2018 legal provision requiring that beneficial ownership registers, which provide information on company ownership, be made public. Beneficial ownership data is critical for monitoring and fighting illicit, cross-border financial flows. Opacity in asset ownership, however, will likely prove advantageous for Russian oligarchs seeking to circumvent sanctions.

Mozambique ‘Tuna Bond’ Scandal: Ex-President Guebuza’s Son Jailed for 12 Years (BBC) 

Ndambi Guebuza, son of the former president of Mozambique, was sentenced to twelve years in prison for his role in the transnational “tuna bond” scandal. The money laundering case involved three companies acquiring $2.2 billion in debt from loans from Credit Suisse and the Russian state bank VTB. The loans were guaranteed by Mozambique’s government—a move which triggered an economic crisis that pushed nearly 2 million people into poverty. Among other projects, this money was used to purchase a tuna factory and finance deals for companies for which the state was a shareholder.


Banks Failing to Comply with Anti-Corruption Rules and Sanctions Lists (Guardian)

Researchers affiliated with the Universities of Texas and Cambridge discovered that sanctioned individuals and other criminal entities can circumvent regulations aiming to bar them from participating in international financial institutions. Their analysis revealed that one in thirty banks did not abide by global regulations and one in twenty did not comply with Magnitsky sanctions. For more on this topic, read Global Shell Games or listen to Jason Sharman on the Power 3.0 podcast.


Qatar Scandal: What Just Happened at the European Parliament? (Politico)

Belgian authorities arrested five individuals connected to the European Parliament for alleged corruption and money laundering, including the Parliament’s vice president Eva Kaili. Those arrested were accused of accepting bribes from Qatari officials. Kaili reportedly used her platform to advocate for relaxed visa requirements for Qatar and its ally Kuwait, and to defend Qatar amid human rights criticism surrounding the World Cup.


Russian Oligarch Mikhail Fridman Arrested In London (OCCRP)

Officers from the United Kingdom’s Combating Kleptocracy Cell arrested Mikhail Fridman and two others for allegedly engaging in money laundering, conspiracy to commit perjury, and conspiracy to defraud, among other charges. Fridman is founder and shareholder of the conglomerate Alfa Group, which oversees Russia’s largest private bank. Fridman has also been accused of financing and propping up Vladimir Putin. These arrests are among nearly 100 “disruptions,” or actions taken by the UK to remove or reduce criminal activity allegedly perpetrated by oligarchs with ties to the Russian president.


U.S. Officials Discuss Counterresponses to Kleptocracy at the International Anti-Corruption Conference

The International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) convened in Washington, D.C., bringing together counter-kleptocracy advocates from the policy community, civil society, media space, and private sector. USAID Administrator and former UN Ambassador Samantha Power explained how the Biden Administration is revamping its anticorruption strategy to target kleptocrats who use cross-border financial flows to bolster their power and degrade democratic institutions. Meanwhile, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan reflected on the U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption and outlined a multipronged approach to continue the positive momentum generated over the last year.

“Once we understand that we helped to build the kleptocratic structures in which Autocracy Inc. thrives, then we might begin to realize that we can also help take them apart.”

– Anne Applebaum, Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on Democracy in the World

Nineteenth Annual Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on Democracy in the World | Anne Applebaum

It’s Xi Jinping’s Party Now: What the CCP’s Move from Collective to Singular Leadership Might Mean for the World | Kevin Sheives, Power 3.0 Blog

Fighting SLAPPs: What Can Media, Lawyers, and Funders Do? | Peter Noorlander, Center for International Media Assistance

22 Notable Books of 2022 | Democracy Resource Center:
Check out the DRC’s year-end recommended reads, including books on money laundering, kleptocracy in the UK, and much more.


Thanks for reading Countering Kleptocracy! If you enjoy this newsletter, forward it to a friend or share on social media so that others can subscribe.