The U.S. Fight Against International Corruption
What do kleptocrats in Nigeria, South Korea, Equatorial Guinea—and as of this week, Malaysia—have in common? Fear of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Over the past five years its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative has investigated and prosecuted corruption cases from each country, recovering over $600 million in ill-gotten assets. Increasingly active prosecutors trace and seize money that comes within U.S. borders, or through U.S.-based banks, revealing New York luxury apartments purchased through shell companies, bank accounts worth hundreds of millions, California beach homes, and even $1 million in Michael Jackson memorabilia. They don’t always succeed—the DOJ had recovered just half of its outstanding claims as of last year, the majority coming from one $480 million settlement involving former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. And not all the money makes its way back home, as DOJ has a less-than-perfect track record in victim compensation. But it remains one of the most effective U.S. tools against global corruption, as long as kleptocrats prefer to “invest” their money in more stable Western markets.