Posts Tagged ‘guardina’

February 2014

How to stop state terrorists: seize their assets

The Observer

The most effective method of hurting those who murder their own people is to recover the wealth they have amassed.

The guards who tortured Sergei Magnitsky at Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison, and refused to allow doctors to treat the pancreatitis that eventually killed him did not understand that they had fashioned a weapon for democracies to wield against dictatorships.

Until that moment, on 16 November 2009, all the talk of globalisation had missed one obvious fact – the wealthy could indeed move their money across national borders in ways that were once unimaginable. However corrupt a communist was in the cold war, his wealth had to stay in the old Soviet Union or in China or eastern Europe. From 1991 on, oligarchs or red princelings could hide their money where they wanted.

But the options for those who robbed or murdered their own people were not limitless. They did not stash their loot in their own countries, as a rule. They feared revolutionaries taking power and taking back the stolen goods. They could direct wealth to Russia, the new capital of global reaction. But trusting the Putin regime and Russia’s corrupt banking system and judiciary has never been wise. Instead, they wanted what oligarchs and the willing servants of dictatorial regimes have always wanted: a town house in Mayfair, an apartment in Manhattan or a villa on the Riviera, where they could be safe; and City, Swiss or Wall Street lawyers and bankers, who could protect their wealth. The democratic world was their bolt hole and pension plan.

On Thursday night, Ukrainian liberals and journalists reported that private jets were taking off from Ukraine as fears grew – and let us hope they are not groundless – that President Yanukovych and his death squads were entering their last days. The charter manifest at Kiev’s Zhulyany airport on 20 February, said one, read like a Who’s Who of Ukraine’s richest men. Which way would they head – east or west? As far as Ukraine’s planespotters could tell, they wanted to head west to countries with the rule of law and protections for private property, rather than east into the hands of the rapacious Putin and his officials.

Just like the families of Chinese communists, who store their wealth in the British Virgin Islands, when the moment of choice comes, they prefer financial security to ideological conformity. For instance, one of Ukraine’s richest men has paid more than £100m for a luxury apartment in London. We should not be surprised if such men decide to delight us with their company if the old regime falls and its unreasonable replacement takes against them.

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