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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Corruption Will Dictate 21st Century




Once upon a time, before the Bank of New York was implicated in laundering Russian mob money, there was a Swiss money-laundering investigation of more than 20 Kremlin officials.


Before that, there was an audit of the European Union that chronicled such appalling cronyism and fraud, particularly regarding aid to the former Soviet Union, that all 20 members of the European Commission resigned (The 20 Europeans quit in shame; the 20 Russians claim the inalienable moral right to choose Boris Yeltsin's successor).


Before that there was FIMACO, with its revelations that the Russian Central Bank is running a dubious and murky commercial empire. Somewhere in there we learned that the International Olympic Committee has for years been steering the Olympic Games to host cities for bribes. And we also heard something about Citibank funneling millions in alleged drug money from Mexico to Switzerland for another "family" member, the older brother of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas.


All this in the space of about a year?


Corruption f like capital f has turned out to be terrifyingly mobile and cunning. Anti-corruption efforts simply can't keep up. When Swiss Attorney General Carla del Ponte began to squeeze corrupt "families" in Mexico and Russia, the Swiss financial system f which has earned a pretty penny servicing organized crime f objected. Del Ponte's "promotion" to The Hague looks more like a way of kicking her upstairs.


Then there is the Bank of New York scoop, which probably had to have been fed f by whom? f to The New York Times. The furious Brits blame the Americans; in off-the-record conversations, the FBI blames the Brits; and either way, a major U.S.-British investigation is being brought to a hasty and, possibly, unsatisfying close. It is curiously reminiscent of del Ponte's promotion: Heroes of law enforcement are applauded, lauded f and in the process taken out of the game.


Corruption is less a Russian problem than an international one. And policing it effectively will raise inevitable questions about how to control the police. Already the U.S. National Security Agency is coming under fire over ECHELON, an espionage program through which it listens to all of Europe's phone calls and e-mails.


ECHELON is one vision of our futures. Another f one more attractive to those of us who cherish democracy f is a United Nations that is treated like a world parliament, and not like a joke. But in addition to being corruption's banner year, 1999 was also the year NATO stepped forward in Yugoslavia to christen itself the new UN. So far anyway, the 21st century looks more like ECHELON than international participatory democracy.