Lebanon Disaster Update: An Excellent and Disturbing OCCRP Report Sheds New Light on the Backstory of the Deadly Explosion

A couple of weeks ago, I did a short post in reaction to the deadly warehouse explosion in Beirut, which killed at least 182 people, wounded thousands, and left hundreds of thousands homeless. My post wasn’t really about the Lebanon blast per se—especially because the causes of the explosion, and the role that corruption may have played, were unclear—but rather discussed more generally the direct and indirect ways that widespread corruption can increase the risk of deadly accidents. But I continue to wonder whether, with respect to the Beirut tragedy, it will turn out that corruption (rather than “mere” incompetence) will have been a contributing cause.

We still don’t have all the answers—particularly with respect to the decision-making process within Lebanon itself—but thanks to excellent investigative reporting by an international team of journalists with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), we now have a great deal more information about the shadowy and highly suspicious backstory of the abandoned ship that brought the ammonium nitrate to Beirut in the first place. I don’t think I can do the report justice, but I highly recommend that everyone read it—it’s available here. And to give you a sense of what’s in it, I’ll just quote the main findings summarized at the beginning of the report: Continue reading

“The Cyprus Papers”: Al Jazeera Report Sheds New Light on Golden Passport Programs

Last year, we had a series of posts on so-called “golden visa” and “golden passport” programs—systems in which countries allow foreign nationals to obtain permanent residence (in the case of golden visa programs) or even citizenship (in the case of golden passport programs) in exchange for a sufficiently large investment in the country, or in some cases for a straight-up cash payment to the government. (See here, here, here, and here.) These programs raise three corruption-related concerns:

  • First, in the eyes of some critics, the programs are themselves a form of (legalized) corruption, enabling individuals to use money to purchase something (permanent residence or citizenship) that should not be for sale.
  • Second, even if we adopt a narrower understanding of corruption, golden visa and golden passport programs may make it easier for corrupt officials and their cronies (as well as other wealthy criminals) to find safe havens for themselves and their money.
  • Third, while several countries have rules designed to deal with the preceding problem, these rules can generate considerable corruption in the programs themselves, as individuals who are ineligible for golden visas or passports can bribe or otherwise corrupt those administering the system to skirt the rules.

Data on the extent of these or other problems, though, is a bit thin, in part because information on the operation of golden passport and golden visa programs—especially with regard to the individuals who take advantage of these programs—is generally not publicly available. But those interested in this topic—and concerned about the corruption risks or other problems associated with these programs—might be interested in a recent report from Al Jazeera, dubbed “The Cyprus Papers,” which analyzed leaked documents on the operation of Cyprus’s “golden passport” program between 2017 and 2019. (Golden passport programs in Cyprus and Malta have attracted particular concern because those two countries are EU members, thus making citizens of these countries EU citizens as well.)

Al Jazeera provides a user-friendly interactive webpage for exploring the results of its analysis of these leaked documents, and I recommend that those interested in this subject check it out. A few highlights: Continue reading