WASHINGTON – An investigation involving secret video recordings of lawyers meeting the representative of a supposed corrupt African minister shows how easy it is to launder ill-gotten gains through the United States.
Global Witness, an independent anti-corruption organization, recorded meetings between the ostensible minister’s representative and 13 New York lawyers to discuss how the minister could move money out of his West African country through front companies.
The representative, actually a member of Global Witness, told the lawyers the minister had raised millions of dollars in exchange for mining rights and wanted to bring the money secretly into the United States to buy a private jet, housing and a yacht.
“We deliberately posed as someone designed to raise red flags for money laundering,” Global Witness explained on its website Monday.
“We said we needed to get the money into the US without detection.”
The result? Only one of the 13 lawyers was not willing to help. The others, Global Witness said, were receptive and suggested to the fake official that he create anonymous front companies in the United States to move his funds.
“Well, you’d set up a Delaware corporation that owns the real estate,” said one of the lawyers.
Delaware is one of a number of states that allow people to set up front and shell companies that hide the identity of the ultimate beneficiary of the company.
“It is one of the easiest places in the world to do this legally,” Global Witness said.
Some members of Congress and nongovernmental organizations are fighting to close this channel, which has been used by drug and arms traffickers to launder dirty money.
During the taped meetings, several of the lawyers suggested that the fake minister’s money could be passed through bank accounts of their law firms to avoid the suspicions of the authorities.
While none of them actually signed up the minister as a client, only one dismissed the overture of the fake representative.
“This ain’t for me, my standards are higher,” said Jeffrey Herrmann, who also refused to recommend someone else that the minister could work with.
“Those persons would be insulted,” he told the representative.