The Atlantic

The U.S. Is a Good Place for Bad People to Stash Their Money

America vows to promote financial transparency, yet it will let just about anyone register an anonymous shell company.
Source: Larry Downing / Reuters

When Viktor Bout—the arms dealer extraordinaire who inspired the 2005 Nicolas Cage movie Lord of War—sought to set up anonymous shell companies, according to a Senate panel, he turned to, of all places, the U.S. So too, court documents indicate, did former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, a man who has landed on Transparency International’s list of the 10 most corrupt officials. Per a Senate report, the same was true of the accused kleptocrat Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president, who went on to forfeit more than $30 million worth of mansions and sports cars to American officials (but somehow managed to hold onto Michael Jackson’s crystal-studded glove).

For this trio, America happened to provide the proper marriage of a stable, independent legal system and complete anonymity. While traditional offshore havens from the to the have recently lurched, however unwillingly, toward greater transparency and financial oversight, people like Lazarenko and Obiang eyed the U.S., the jurisdiction that over the past few years has cemented its position as perhaps the foremost shell-company provider globally. “In some places [in the U.S.], it’s easier to incorporate a company than it is to get a library card,” Joseph Spanjers of the

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