2018: Five Great Reads on Corruption


Twenty eighteen produced many fine analyses of corruption and how to fight it. The five books pictured above, four by journalists and one by a former Nigerian Finance Minister, are among the best.  Combing in-depth reporting with thoughtful analyses, all merit a place on corruption fighters’ book shelf.

No doubt the year’s best news on the anticorruption front came from Malaysia.   Thanks to stories describing how Prime Minster Najib Razak turned one of the nation’s sovereign wealth funds into his wife’s personal piggy bank, in May the voters ran him out of office and authorities have now charged him and the wife with corruption.  In The Sarawak Report: The Inside Story of the 1MDB Exposé, Clare Rewcastle Brown, whose blog Sarawak Report first exposed the scandal, provides an in-depth account of the scandal and how bankers, lawyers, and other “fixers” helped Razak steal some $4.5 billion from the Malaysian people.  Wall Street Journal reporters Tom Wright and Bradley Hope’s Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World tells how Jho Low, the young Malaysian who was Razak’s principal fixer, played on the greed of bankers, lawyers, and advisers across the globe to hide the theft for so long.

In Kickback: Exposing the Global Corporate Bribery Network, journalist and author David Montero reminds that corruption and business have a long history.  Starting with the eighteenth-century machinations of the British East India, Montero chronicles corporate bribery scandals of the past two and one-half centuries, detailing the mechanics of the payoffs and the resulting harm. “A Houseboat in the Swamps,” his chapter on oil and corruption in Nigeria, recounts how a handful of dedicated Scotland Yard detectives brought James Ibori, one of Nigeria’s most corrupt officials, before the bar of justice. Not in Nigeria, where Ibori’s power and money brought him immunity, but in London, where his wealth and influence did not protect him from a conviction for laundering the proceeds of his Nigerian corruption in the U.K.  While Montero’s chapter ends on a down note, with supporters welcoming Ibori back to Nigeria after serving his time and Nigerian oil corruption still in full swing, the early results from an Italian case alleging Shell and ENI bribed a former Nigerian oil minister along with Nigerian authorities’ reinvigorated investigation of the oil/corruption nexus suggests the final chapter on oil and corruption in Nigeria remains unfinished.    

Speaking of corruption and Nigeria, Ngozi Oknojo-Iweala’s account of her service as Nigerian Finance Minister provides corruption fighters with an indispensable guide to how to make progress even when the deck is heavily stacked against you. Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines opens with the harrowing tale her 83-year old mother’s kidnapping. The kidnappers weren’t after money.  The scheme aimed to force Ngozi to drop efforts to scrap a government program riddled with corruption.  Fortunately, her mother escaped and fortunately for the people of Nigeria, Ngozi continued her quest to tame corruption. In recounting that quest, she details a variety of schemes crooked civil servants, businesspeople, and legislators conjured up to siphon off public monies and how she and dedicated officials across the government worked with the World Bank, civil society activists, and other allies in Nigeria and abroad to thwart some of the most egregious ones.  Those whose focus is procurement corruption must read “A Twisted Budget Process,” her chapter on how Nigeria drafts its budget.  It makes plain that procurement corruption is rooted in a chaotic budgeting system.     

When spymaster John Le Carré endorses it, the London Times raves about it, and the Guardian calls it “meticulously researched,” only one thing is left to say about Oliver Bullough’s Moneyland: Why Thieves & Crooks Now Rule the World & How to Take it Back. Read it! In marvelously readable prose, Bullough unlocks the often twisted, confusing, and complex story of the “offshore industry”: the bankers, lawyers, accountants, and others without whom Razak, Ibori, others who rob their nation’s citizens wholesale could not succeed. Journalists seeking to uncover the next 1MDB scandal, investigators tracking down where stolen money has gone, and policymakers looking for how to curb grand corruption will all find “Moneyland” indispensable.  My only complaint.  He calls the army of professionals aiding the Razaks and Iboris of the world “enablers.” A better term would be criminal accomplices, a label that might make at least a few think twice before jumping into bed with some of the 21st century’s most despicable crooks.

Those working to curb corruption can only hope 2019 produces books of similar caliber, ones that arouse the voter, inform policymakers, and make life for the corrupt harder. As the ones above show, 2018 books set a high bar. 2019 authors, your readers are waiting.

3 thoughts on “2018: Five Great Reads on Corruption

  1. Thank you Mr. Messick for these recommendations. As I have noticed that some of the recommended books are unavailable at Harvard University’s libraries, I’ll make sure that Harvard Law School’s library knows of their existence.


    In 2015, the EU proposed an action plan on a capital markets union (European Commission (2015)). Thus, to ensure the regulatory integration of international capital markets conform to global standards, the proposed EU action plan should be taken up at the UN Secretariat level to ensure strict regulatory compliance & enforcement by agencies such as the WTO, IMF, World Bank etc. and the global sanction of the heaviest penalties imposed upon criminals abusing the capital markets. Taking the 1MDB Global Kleptocracy Scandal as a case study, Malaysians will provide strong support.

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