The rich and powerful have mastered the art of funnelling their finances into offshore tax havens that keep them beyond the reach of the international taxman and render the economic sanctions against corrupt regimes not worth the paper they’re written on; the systems for doing so are legal, albeit with enough loopholes to fill the Albert Hall. Tell us something we don’t know. Thanks to an enterprising German newspaper, the clandestine machinations of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca have been leaked to the world’s media in the shape of eleven million files. A dozen incumbent or former heads of state have been implicated and a billion dollar money laundering scam may or may not lead all the way to the Kremlin. Fancy that!
214,000 companies have had their dubious dealings exposed courtesy of the leak; the dozen current or ex-world leaders named and shamed include the Prime Ministers of Pakistan, Iceland and Ukraine as well as the Saudi King; six members of the House of Lords and a trio of ex-Tory MPs are also listed; football superstar Lionel Messi appears on the roll-call of offshore evaders, as does a prominent member of FIFA’s ethics committee (woah, didn’t see that coming); even David Cameron’s old man is there, which is interesting considering his son’s token and ultimately meaningless demands that tax havens show a little more transparency. Again, all perfectly legal and above board, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t stink.
Has anybody really been surprised at these revelations, though? A few politicians will issue statements justifying their greed, there will be calls for heads to roll for a week or so within the media, and then it’ll all quieten down again. Bar a bunch of dispensable journos thrown to the dogs by their employees, what did the hacking scandal of 2011 actually change re the way the people that control this country go about their daily business? Murdoch Senior remains on the throne, Murdoch Junior has been reinstated in the dynasty’s line of succession, and golden girl Brooks is back in a top job, as though none of it ever happened. All these leaked documents do is to confirm something everybody has known for a long time, that our social superiors have the clout to do what those lower down the scale cannot.
Richard Nixon may have utilised presidential privilege to an exceptionally dodgy degree, but the fact that his extreme paranoia was facilitated by systems that were already in place merely underlines how the potential for corruption is served on a silver salver at the White House. Rumours and gossip about Hillary Clinton’s private activities have followed her around for years, but should they serve as a deterrent to her becoming America’s first female President? Does anyone expect a candidate to ascend the summit of absolute power without any shit on their shoes? Trust and faith in the political classes has been wallowing in the gutter for decades, something both Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump have exploited to their advantage, and a flurry of revelations that the elite operate within a legal framework inaccessible to the man in the street won’t alter opinions that have been set in stone for a long time. An indifferent shrug of the shoulders is probably the extent of the reaction that those who aren’t excited newspaper journalists will offer in response to the latest ‘sensational’ headlines.
To actually want to climb to the apogee of power to me indicates a design fault in a person’s personality there and then. Ambition is fine (and indeed admirable) in any chosen field, but there’s something different about politics. An honourable man or woman may be motivated by a genuine desire to change aspects of the system they see as unfair to the masses, but each step along the way to their goal is littered with obstacles challenging their virtue. A nod and a wink, a funny handshake, a flash of upturned trouser leg, a free meal or tickets to a sporting event via corporate hospitality – and thus it has always been. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours if you want to get where you’re going; here’s a pot we all piss in. Britain’s first Prime Minister Robert Walpole would make a habit of inviting new MPs to dinner and promising them the world in order to secure their support and nothing has really changed in three-hundred years. In the fallout of the South Sea Bubble scandal of 1720, Walpole emerged triumphant because he had the nous to cover his back and successfully sell himself as the best of a bad bunch.
The hints of alleged shady banking practices linked to Vladimir Putin are hardly akin to discovering Doris Day used to shoot up with Janis Joplin; illegal annexations, press suppression and professional assassinations are already cluttering Tsar Vlad’s copybook, so why should anyone be shocked that he’s careful with his money too? World leaders are not necessarily the brightest of buttons, but they often surround themselves with men who are; the ones that get caught with their hands in the till are the ones who don’t.
I’ve no doubt that the documents that have seeped from the Mossack Fonseca vault are scratching the surface of something that runs deep in the DNA of every power-hungry martinet from the largest of life presidents to the most obscure of local councillors. And chances are we’ll never be told the truth, the whole truth or nothing but the truth. There is an Us and there is a Them, and never the twain shall meet.
© The Editor