As part of sanctions against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States, United Kingdom, and other European Union nations are cracking down on Russian oligarchs, freezing assets and tracking the yachts, private jets, and luxury real estate holdings of oligarchs.
“I say to the Russian oligarchs and the corrupt leaders who bilked billions of dollars off this violent regime: no more,” Biden said in his State of the Union address. “We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.”
Targeting Russia’s elites, who have stolen trillions from their own people, is an important strategy to pressure Putin, who himself may be among the wealthiest people on the planet.
But the U.S. faces a major obstacle in this effort, which is our country has become a major destination tax haven for criminal and oligarch wealth from around the world, not just Russians. While other EU countries have been increasing transparency and cracking down on kleptocratic capital, the U.S. is a laggard. As the Pandora Papers disclosed, the U.S. has become a weak link in the fight against global corruption.
Delaware, the state President Biden represented in the U.S. Senate for 36 years, is the premiere venue for anonymous limited liability companies that don’t have to disclose who the real beneficial owners are, even to law enforcement. And South Dakota is the home for billionaires creating dynasty trusts where they can park wealth outside the reach of tax authorities for generations. Even more, U.S. charities, as my IPS colleague Helen Flannery wrote last week, have received billions from Russian oligarchs, helping to sanitize their reputations.