Date read: 26-02-2023

Author: Tom Burgis

How strongly I recommend it: 6/10

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Well-researched book covering important topics on corruption, kleptocracies, and money laundering. However, it was too well-researched—the book felt like the author just wanted to dump as much of his work as possible into a single volume.

It was disorganised with no common theme or narrative that he wanted to highlight. He also dedicated chapters that seemed like tangents and offered no “advancement” of the plot (so to speak.)

It could have benefitted from tighter editing.


For an oligarch seeking safety there was one option so bold that you might have thought it would be difficult. First, turn yourself into a corporation: one of the most powerful fictions in which Westerners chose to believe, endowed with privileges and protections, and yet blissfully easy to create. Second, add to that corporation the assets Nazarbayev had allowed you to acquire – mines, banks, whatever. Then sell a share of your corporation for Western money.

As Swiss bankers and their apologists told the tale, the reason that Switzerland made it a crime to violate bank secrecy was to help persecuted Jews protect their savings. In fact, the law was first drafted in 1932, the year before Hitler came to power. Their impetus came not from altruism but self-interest. It was the Great Depression. Governments badly needed to collect taxes. Those of Europe’s rich who were disinclined to pay them found that by entrusting their assets to Swiss banks’ anonymised accounts, they could dodge their dues. Parisian magistrates were demanding the Swiss cooperate in their investigation of tax evasion by wealthy French. At home, Swiss farmers and workers wanted the banks brought under control. The solution was to build a wall of secrecy around the banks—and then, when anyone asked, about it over the years that followed, say it had all been down to the Jews.

Fraenkel found what he believed to be ‘a key to understanding the National Socialist system of rule’. It was the ‘concurrent existence of a “normative state” that generally respects its own laws, and a “prerogative state” that violates the very same laws’. In other words, Nazi Germany was not a straightforward totalitarian system. It retained some vestiges of the rule of law, chiefly in matters of business, so that the capitalist economy had the basic rules it needed to keep going. But the prerogative state – Hitler’s political machinery – enjoyed what Fraenkel called ‘jurisdiction over jurisdiction’. It was itself beyond the law, and it could strip the protection of the law from any individual or group as it pleased.

It was the kind of danger that emanated from kleptocracies, where the price of prosperity was complete loyalty to the boss.

The best way for a corporation to avoid the full force of the law was to investigate itself, unburden itself to the authorities and maybe, if a sacrifice were required, offer up a rotten apple or two to the prosecutors.

When it came to business—as opposed to pleasure—the Trio had tired of the UK, a nation that wanted their money then professed to balk at how they made it.