Every kleptocrat needs a buddy. Someone to serve as an intermediary between the corrupt official and the bankers, real estate agents, and others in London, New York, and elsewhere happy to profit from handling dirty money. A kleptocrat can’t just walk into a bank or real estate office in the United Kingdom, the United States, or other preferred offshore haven with a pile of money to invest. As a public official, the antimoney laundering (AML) laws would oblige the banker or real estate agent to ask searching questions about how the kleptocrat came into the money and the law would likely also require them to report the transaction or proposed transaction to the authorities. A buddy, particularly one who has remained out of the public limelight, is the perfect solution. So long as they don’t know a potential customer is close to a senior public official, the banker or real estate agent meets their obligation to ascertain the source of the would-be customer’s funds by asking a few pro forma questions.
To plug the buddy loophole, the AML laws require banks and real estate agents to determine if anyone wanting to do business with them is a “close associate” of a senior official — a “politically exposed person” in the inelegant term coined by AML specialists. If a potential customer is a PEP, the bank or real estate agent must ask the same searching questions about the origins of the individual’s funds that they must ask of a senior official. Recognizing that bankers and real estate agents can’t be expected to know whether a foreign national wanting to do business with them is a close associate of a senior official in 190 plus countries, AML regulators allow them to rely on one of the several PEP lists peddled by commercial firms. So long as the potential customer doesn’t appear on whatever PEP list they use, the banker or real estate agent need not conduct a detailed inquiry (“enhanced due diligence” in AML-speak) into where their money came from.
So how well do these commercial PEP lists do at identifying kleptocrats’ buddies? Continue reading